Friday, January 31, 2014

Jesus Seminar - Part 1

Mark the evangelist allows us to listen in on a conversation between Jesus and his disciples where Jesus asks the question “Who do people say that I am?”[1]  This question has troubled mankind and the church for the last two millennia.  In 451 AD the church attempted an answer at Chalcedon with the following statement:
Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us.[2]

Christendom on the whole accepted this creed as the definitive answer for the next thirteen hundred years.  However, in the eighteenth century Hermann Samuel Reimarus, a professor of oriental language in Hamburg, Germany, influenced Gotthold Lessing to write “The accidental truths of history can never become the proof of necessary truths of reason”[3] and with this the quest for the historical Jesus began.  Across Lessing’s “broad ugly ditch of History”[4] men tried to piece together a picture of Jesus that seemed reasonable, less miraculous.  One of the American Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson, “cut and pasted together only those passages that made sense to him”[5].  This quest has had its starts and stops, but we seem to find ourselves today “in the midst of a cultural paradigm shift”[6] when it comes to Christology.  Every Easter and Christmas brings with it a flurry of television and print articles that question all aspects of orthodox Christology.  For example, the cover story for the March 28th 2005 issue of Newsweek was titled “How Jesus Became the Christ”[7].  The idea that the early Christians “backfilled” much of the gospel’s words figured heavily in this story.  A leading protagonist in this story is The Jesus Seminar.   According to the Jesus Seminar Forum, the official web site of the Jesus Seminar, the seminar was “convened in 1985 by Robert W. Funk, [it] has become a lightning rod for international debate about the "historical Jesus" - that is, the real facts about the person to whom various Christian gospels refer. The Seminar's on-going project has been to evaluate the historical significance of every shred of evidence about Jesus from antiquity (about 30-200 CE). Over the past twenty years more than 200 scholars from North America & beyond have participated in its semi-annual meetings.”[8]  One could hardly think of a more noble endeavor than to “study the real facts about the historical Jesus”.  But, is this attempt a “landmark work of exceptional quality” as reviewed by Encounter Magazine[9] or simply “blasphemous” as many right-wing conservatives have exclaimed?  What exactly are the conclusions reached by the 200 imminent scholars paneled for this seminar and how should their conclusions effect the way we live, teach, and relate to this Jesus of Nazareth?

[1] Mark 8:27 ESV
[2] Council of Chalcedon.  As quoted in The Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics. [On Line Source]; available from; internet.

[3] Millard J Erickson. The Word Became Flesh. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1991), 112.
[4] Donald Macloed. The Person of Christ. (Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, 1998), 109.
[5] Thomas Jefferson. The Jefferson Bible: The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. (Boston:  Beacon Press, 1989), vii.
[6]  Erickson, 12.
[7] Jon Meachem. “How Jesus Became Christ:  From Resurrection to The Rise of Christianity,” Newsweek, 28 March 2005, 38.
[8] Jesus Seminar. The Jesus Seminar Forum. [On Line Source]; Internet.

[9] Robert W Funk, Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar. The Five Gospels: What did Jesus Really Say? (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco,  1993), i.

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