Jesus Seminar: No Hidden Agenda

The Five Gospels (Funk, et al., 1993) is not your mother’s Bible. It is a reference work summarizing the present conclusions of Fellows of the Jesus Seminar. The authors wish you to know, from the very beginning, that this book is not the Gospel for conservative Christianity. They appear to sneer at translations “made by academics and endorsed by church boards” (p. xiv). They state that their translation, the Scholars Version, “is free of ecclesiastical and religious control” (p. xviii). Indeed, as its name intends to convey, this is a work “authorized by scholars.” By implication, other versions are suspect because their respective translators allowed their beliefs, or the constraints of church politics, to influence their work.

Of course, anyone who has studied the history of translations acknowledges this potential bias, and compensates accordingly. The Five Gospels is no less deserving of careful consideration. For all its claims to objectivity, Bible students also must consider the translation biases of this new Gospel account [see feature article].

However, these biases go beyond a higher critical approach to translation. The authors make it known that their work upholds the naturalistic world view. They dedicate the book to Galileo Galilei “who altered our view of the heavens forever,” to Thomas Jefferson “who took scissors and paste to the gospels,” and David Friedrich Strauss “who pioneered the quest of the historical Jesus.” They use Galileo and Scopes to perpetuate the tired and questionable conflict metaphor of science versus faith (see Major, 1994). In their assessment,

The contemporary religious controversy, epitomized in the Scopes trial and the continuing clamor for creationism as a viable alternative to the theory of evolution, turns on whether the worldview reflected in the Bible can be carried forward into this scientific age and retained as an article of faith. Jesus figures prominently in this debate. The Christ of creed and dogma, who had been firmly in place in the Middle Ages, can no longer command the assent of those who have seen the heavens through Galileo’s telescope (p. 2).

In other words, if we give up a literal Creator, then we also should give up divine inspiration and a miracle-performing, risen Christ. Clearly, their mission is to constrain biblical history by empirical science, just as evolutionists have attempted to constrain natural history by empirical science. However, this changes neither the deliberate bias of naturalism against non-naturalistic answers, nor the obvious limitations of empirical science.


Funk, Robert W., Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar (1993), The Five Gospels—The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus (New York: Macmillan).

Major, Trevor (1994), “Is Creation Science?,” Reason & Revelation, 14:17-23, March.


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