The Skepticism of the Jesus Seminar
The Jesus Seminar is a group of over 200 scholars and historians and other fellows whose aim is to figure out what Jesus really said and did. They do this by getting a big group of people together and voting using different colored beads. If a saying or deed is red, then it means that Jesus really said/did something. If it receives a "pink" vote then it is a close approximation of what Jesus did. Gray beads denote a "probably not," while black beads mean that Jesus definitely did not say/do the item in question.
The scholars at the head of this project are Robert Funk, John Dominic Crossan, and Marcus Borg. From what I have heard, its founder, Robert Funk, is an atheist. John Dominic Crossan is what most people would call an atheist, even though he likes to associate himself with Christianity. In his debate with William Lane Craig, he said that whether or not God existed before there were humans to think about him as a "meaningless question." Marcus Borg is what we would call an agnostic and does not believe in the afterlife or miracles.
According to the Seminar, Jesus didn't say 82% of the sayings attributed to him. Furthermore, Jesus didn't die for anyone's sins or rise from the dead. He did not do any nature miracles nor did he feed 5000 people. The few cures Jesus did perform were psychosomatic and the result of what we consider to be "faith healing" today.
As you can imagine, their 1993 book The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus, unleashed a ton of controversy from Christian apologists and many New Testament historians. People would write many articles criticizing their presuppositions, their historical methodology, their ignoring Jesus eschatological mission, and a host of other criticisms.
Rejects Christianity but Concedes 6 Miracles
But these aren't my concerns in this post. In fact, for purposes of this post, I would like to agree with the Jesus Seminar. Keep in mind, these are on the left of historical Jesus scholarship, and is headed by atheists, and a group that denies any real miracles (if by miracle we mean act of God). What they don't believe is worthy of scholarly criticism. But what they DO believe is the most irrational and insane part of it all.
Although they believe Jesus didn't do any miracles by God's power, nor do they accept the historicity of most of them, they will grant 6 miracles. These get a "pink" designation, as a close approximation of what Jesus said and did:
- Healing of Peter's sick mother and law
- Healing of a leper
- Healing of the paralytic (whom four friends lowered through the roof).
- Healing of the blind man at Bethsaida
- Healing of blind Bartimeaus
- Healing of a woman with 18 years of internal bleeding
This is what is so severely irrational. The fact that an organization like this, which denies Christian theology (some would argue they actively seek to undermine it), would believe that Jesus healed a sick person, a leper, a paralytic, 2 blind men and a person with 18 years of internal bleeding. If your methodology concedes that Jesus did these 6 miracles, and your goal is to get rid of the traditional picture of Jesus, I would say that you are highly unsuccessful. It's like trying to say that serial killer Ted Bundy was a good man, but in your analysis, you concede 6 of his 30 some odd murders. These kinds of concessions are the sorts of things that kill your own position. Granted you can say the miracles were "psychosomatic" or "faith healings," but calling something a "faith healing" doesn't make it so. I have never heard of any one person being able to do all of the miracles above by a faith healing. I mean seriously try it sometime. Try and "faith heal" a leper, a paralytic, and 2 blind men and tell me how it goes.... Pardon my condescension but I'm just trying to show the full force of the issue here.
Now many skeptics of Christianity, especially at the scientific and popular level, don't want to go the route that skeptical historians tend to go. They opt for a more consistent position that is actually worse off.... To this position we now turn, in the next blog post.
*An important note. I have looked at articles and books that talk about the Jesus Seminar. But the information I got about their view of miracles is from a Wikipedia article. I don't imagine the author is lying about which miracles got which beads (since it seems they are attempting to cite the book I mention above). But be forewarned that I didn't get that information from their book, because I don't have it.