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A New Vision of Jesus?

An Evangelical Critique of the Jesus Seminar and Its Radical Skepticism

Part Four

By Francis H. Geis, B.B.S., B.A.

This article is continued from:
A New Vision of Jesus? - Part Three.

As for Borg’s comments about sex, Mary, and Jesus in thesis 19: It is clear from the Biblical record Mary was a serious and godly young Jewess, who sought to live faithfully according to the Mosaic law. For her, this meant that, outside the covenantal bonds of marriage, she would have been engaging in sin by having premarital sex—sin that, for her as an engaged woman, could have been punishable by death under Jewish law.

To portray Mary as lacking any moral stamina, as giving into her sexual urges with abandon, and then having a child out of wedlock—to take this view as a way of "giving Mary her rights as a woman" might indeed be acceptable to some modern Americans who think women in general, and Mary in particular, have no more moral sense and sexual control than a bitch in heat. But for all Christians who have a high regard for Mary, this view is contemptible. What awful, arrogant slander is being made against this godly and obedient daughter of Israel! Shame on you, Mr. Funk!

Christians, who generally have a higher opinion of women's intelligence and moral sensibility, regard such teaching, as advocated by Funk, as nothing more than evidence for the moral decadence of modern American society, which has turned its back on God and his moral standards. As for Jesus, orthodox Christians are content, in agreement with the NT and the Early Church, to affirm that before and after his incarnation, God was and forever remains Jesus' true Father, while granting in Joseph, Jesus had a true, though adopted, human father. Mr. Funk's trashy tabloid alternative is not worth considering even for a moment!

And as for his plans for reopening the "Canon" or "List of Authoritative Scripture," and making a "new New Testament" (thesis 21), Funk here flies his true colors as an apostate and heretic. He obviously wants a "new" collection of writings that will permit him and his co-conspirators to remake Christian theology and ethics as they please, according to their standards of truth and morality. For the NT canon, as it now stands, places strict restraints on the radical revisions of Christian doctrine and ethics that Funk so warmly advocates. Indeed, the historic New Testament condemns Funk and his like as an apostates and blasphemers, which explains his eagerness to get rid of it.

As far as orthodox Christians are concerned, the NT Canon is closed. For long ago, the Early Church, as guided and directed by the Holy Spirit, decided what writings would be allowed to stand as "Canonical Scripture."

Their judgment rested on these criteria:
1) To be canonical, a document had to have been written by Christ's Apostles or by their authorized associates.

2) It had to agree with the body of Apostolic doctrine, The Rule of Faith, which had been preserved by all the churches originally founded by the Apostles.1

3) It had to have been written before the death of St. John (c. 95 A.D.), the last of Christ's Apostles to speak with the authority of Christ himself.2

It was on the teaching of Christ and his Apostles alone that the Church had been founded (cf. Eph 2:19-22; 3:2-6). It was only those documents authored by the Apostles or their authorized representatives which were normative for Christian belief and practice. Only such documents as these, in the Early Church's judgment, were truly inspired and authoritative, and only they were worthy of status as "Canonical Scripture." If a document failed to meet these criteria, it was rejected. In fact, the entire NT Apocrypha was rejected by these very standards.

We continue to agree with this judgment made by the Early Church. That is why we reject both The Gospel of Thomas and The Book of Mormon. So unless Mr. Funk plans to start a new denomination that will use his "new New Testament," he will not succeed in persuading orthodox Christians to abandon the New Testament we already possess. But should Funk and his followers to set up a rival church with a rival canon of Scripture, then they would most certainly prove themselves to be false prophets and teachers.

St. John warned us:
Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us….

They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them. We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error (1John 2:18-19; 4:5-6).

Need I say any more?

Our Summation and Concluding Argument

Let us sum up the case against the Jesus Seminar. On the basis of the evidence presented so far, we have shown: 1) the Jesus Seminar has no solid basis for disparaging the historical reliability and veracity of the NT witness to Jesus' life and ministry; and, 2) they are not on a quest to find the historical Jesus, as they claim to be, but are on a quest to destroy the foundation of historic, orthodox Christianity. This being the case, we are led to believe they are among the false prophets and heretical teachers St. Peter predicted would arise in the last days before the return of the Lord Jesus Christ:

But just as false prophets arose from among the people of Israel, even so false teachers will arise among you, men who will not hesitate to smuggle in their poisonous errors mixed with truth, disowning the Sovereign Lord who ransomed them. And in so doing, they bring swift destruction upon themselves. Nevertheless, a great company of people will comply with their shameful beliefs and practices; and so, because of these false teachers and their disciples, the way of truth will be brought into disrepute (2Peter 2:1-2, my translation).

Furthermore, we also believe the quest of the Jesus Seminar will not only have dire consequences for the Christian Church, but also for these radical scholars and their followers as well. We have no doubt that if these people fail to repent of their heresy and return to the Apostolic faith, repairing the damage they have done to the Church and its mission--then, in due time, they will face the divine judgment St. Peter predicts will befall all heretics and apostates in the Day of the Lord. "They will suffer harm as God's repayment for the harm they have done ... It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then turned their backs on the sacred commandment that was passed on to them" (2Peter 3:13, 21, my translation).

Some members of the jury, being modernists or postmodernists, may find the case we have argued against the Jesus Seminar to be both shocking and offensive. They may see it as a "dogmatic, intolerant, fundamentalist" reaction to a view of Jesus they think is more "scientific" and "rational" than the orthodox view. For such people, who no longer believe in a God who can provide a revelation of Jesus' life and ministry that has proven true and historically reliable, even when subjected to the tests of historical-literary criticism—yes, I guess such a critique would be shocking and offensive. But I make no apology for it.

The Jesus story, for which we are here contending against the Jesus Seminar, is not one of our own clever invention. It is the one, true meta-narrative, or "grand story," which all orthodox Christians believe God himself gave to the Christian Church to tell the nations until the glorious return of Jesus to judge all humanity and then reign upon the earth. It is this grand story alone, as found in the Bible, that fully explains God's action throughout history to redeem a fallen and fractured humanity.

It is the only grand story that gives significance to humanity's present existence and provides it with a certain, joyous expectation for a glorious future. It begins in the Old Testament with the creation and fall of humanity, followed by the account of God's raising up of Israel, the nation through whom God promised to bring the Messiah, who would save fallen humanity and restore them to a true knowledge of God, who is the transcendent center of all reality.

Then in New Testament, the grand story becomes focused in the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, who comes in fulfillment of OT Messianic prophecy. And it is this grand story that the Christian Church must jealously guard and faithfully proclaim until our Lord Jesus Christ returns.

And again we would remind the Court that, contrary to the assertions of the Jesus Seminar, the NT record and interpretation of Jesus' life and ministry is not religious legend and myth. It is actually based on what the Apostles themselves, as eyewitnesses, saw and heard Jesus say and do when they traveled with Him throughout first-century Galilee and Judea.

As St. Peter himself says:
For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain (2 Peter 1:16-18).

St. John adds:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life—the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us—that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ (1John 1:1-3).

Therefore, it is for this Jesus story alone, as faithfully recorded and interpreted by these same Apostles and their close associates in the NT writings, that we are willing to live by and die for. We view any major departure from the Jesus story, as the Apostles have passed it on to us, as a serious misconstruction. Some of these departures are worse, being heretical and morally contemptible perversions. And we regard the Jesus Seminar version of the Jesus story as the worst of them all. Their new vision of Jesus is a deliberate repudiation of the NT teaching, and is the aggressive promotion of a new Jesus myth of their own making, based on nothing more than secular humanist speculation.

Yet, despite their rejection of our Jesus story, they still continue to use Christian terms and symbols, seeking to win others, through their books, films and magazine articles, away from the Apostolic faith to their own modernized, alternative Christianity. And for all who will accept their message and follow their agenda, the Jesus Seminar holds out the promise of abundant life and freedom.

But while pretending to be followers of Jesus of Nazareth and expositors of His Gospel, they clearly and emphatically deny Jesus' own testimony to His Messianic identity and mission, as recorded in the NT itself. Here is Jesus' own testimony, as it is recorded in the Fourth Gospel:

Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your law, 'I said, "You are gods" '? "If He called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), "do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, 'You are blaspheming,' because I said, 'I am the Son of God'? "If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; "but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him…."

Then Jesus cried out and said, "He who believes in Me, believes not in Me but in Him who sent Me. "And he who sees Me sees Him who sent Me. "I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness. "And if anyone hears My words and does not believe, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. "He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him -- the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day. "For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak…."

Pilate therefore said to Him, "Are You a king then?" Jesus answered, "You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice" (John 10:34-38, 12:44-49; 18:37).

And here again, we must remind the Court, this testimony was recorded by St. John, the Beloved Disciple, who was among Jesus' three closest friends, as well as an eyewitness of Jesus' life. Let the Court also note the attached affidavit by St. John's coworkers in Asia Minor, confirming the historical reliability and veracity of the testimony he recorded, "This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true" (John 21:24).

However, since it blocks their program to revise and modernize NT Christology, the Jesus Seminar dismisses this testimony with a sneer. So let us be clear on the radical mindset and agenda of the Jesus Seminar. What the Bible, as a whole, teaches about God and His plan for humanity's redemption, with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Son as being central to the successful realization of that plan—this same teaching is viewed by the Jesus Seminar as merely a pre-scientific and outmoded mythology that has to be reinterpreted for modem, scientific men and women.

They deny the Scriptural revelation that the rebellion of Adam and Eve alienated the human race from God and brought it under the destructive oppression of the Devil. They also deny the Scriptural revelation that it was necessary for God, through the agency of His incarnate Son, to destroy the works of the Devil and reconcile fallen humanity with Himself. For, says the same Scripture, it was only by Christ's sacrificial death and liberating resurrection that God was able to accomplish this great redemption and reconciliation of fallen and enslaved humanity, while at the same time making His Son the founder of a new chosen nation and holy people, i.e., the Christian Church (cf. Gen 3; Rom 5:12-21; 1Cor 15:12-28; Eph 2:1-18; Col 1:13-23; 2:9-15; 1Tim 2:5-7; Heb. 2:5-18; 1John 3:1-10; 1Peter 1:17-21; 2:9-10,24).

So it comes as no great surprise that they do not offer to us, as do the NT writers, Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God--i.e., the great Redeemer, Liberator and King of OT prophecy who, by His death on the cross and His bodily resurrection, destroyed the foundation of Satan's tyrannical rule over humanity, freed people from their awful bondage to sin and death, and fully assured true believers that in the coming new world, everlasting life and joyous, unbroken fellowship with God will be their true inheritance and experience (cf. Gen 3:15; 12:1-2; 2Sam 7:8-16; Psalm 2; Isaiah 9:1-7; 11:1-10; 42:1-7; 49:5-7; 52:13-53:12; 61:1-4; Gal 4:4-7; Luke 2:25-40; 4:14-44; 7:18-28; 24:44-49; John 12:37-41; 1Peter 1:3-12; 2:21-24; Rev 19:11-22:6).

Such an understanding of Jesus' Messianic identity and mission is abhorrent to them. It is the great rock which the ship of their revisionist Christology must avoid, lest it be sunk. And they know it! That is why they avoid it at all cost.

The Prosecution Rests Its Case

Your Honor, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury: Having presented the case against the Jesus Seminar, we conclude that they must be regarded as false prophets and teachers, bent on the destruction of historic, orthodox Christianity. We have shown they have no solid basis for disparaging the historical reliability and veracity of the NT witness to Jesus' life and ministry. We have also shown their so-called quest for the historical Jesus is, in fact, a secular humanist crusade against the confession of the Christian Church that Jesus is the Messiah, Son of God and Lord of All.

Therefore, we call upon the court to reject the Jesus Seminar fellows as both false teachers and enemies of God and His people, to regard their works as essentially anti-Christian propaganda, and to urge all true Christian scholars, pastors, and lay-ministers, in all their endeavors, to "fight for the faith that had been once and for all entrusted to the saints" (Jude 3, my translation). For it is the Christian faith that is at stake. Here, we rest our case.

Recommended Reading

The following books are recommended for readers wanting to know more about the historical reliability and veracity of the NT witness to Jesus, and who also desire a more thorough refutation of the heretical teaching of the Jesus Seminar:

The links below are direct links to where the book can be purchased from Books-A-Million.

1. Craig Blomberg. Historical Reliability of the Gospels . Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1987.

2. Wm. R. Farmer, ed. Crisis In Christology: Essays in Quest of Resolution. Livonia, MI: Dove Booksellers, 1995.

3. M.J. Wilkins and J.P. Moreland, eds. Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents The Historical Jesus . Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995.

4. C. P. Thiede and M. D'Ancona. Eyewitness To Jesus: Amazing New Manuscript Evidence About the Origin of the Gospels . New York, NY: Doubleday, 1996.

5. John Wenham. Redating Matthew, Mark, and Luke: A Fresh Assault on the Synoptic Problem. Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1992.

6. Ben Witherington III. The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth . Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press. 1995.

1 "The Rule of Faith" is summarized in slightly varying forms in the writings of Irenaeus, Tertullian, and other Early Church Fathers. It realizes its full and fixed forms in The Apostles' Creed and The Nicene Creed. Discussions relating to it are found in Classical Readings in Christian Apologetics A. D. 100-1800 .
2 For a fuller discussion of the criteria used by the Early Church in recognizing and confirming the NT canon, see F.F. Bruce, "Criteria of Canonicity," The Canon of Scripture , pp. 255-269; also see Clayton Harrop, "Final Determination of the New Testament Canon," History of the New Testament in Plain Language, pp. 121-136.

The above article was posted on this Web site February 2, 1999.

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