Deliver Us from the Jesus Seminar: Introduction

Why should Catholics be concerned about the Jesus Seminar, a small group of scholars who gather twice yearly in Sonoma Valley, California, to sip wine and vote on what they decide Jesus really said and did? Because, if these scholars succeed, Christianity would be completely disfigured. If that seems overstated, consider the following facts:

• Fewer than 20 percent of the words of Jesus as contained in the Bible are deemed authentic.

• Of the Lord’s Prayer, only the words “Our Father” are close to what Jesus said.

• The Gospel of John does not contain a single saying that could be traced back to the historical Jesus.

• The Jesus that emerges from the Seminar was not the Son of God. He was neither the Messiah nor considered Himself such. He was not born of a virgin, never performed miracles, and did not rise from the dead.

Only 30 to 40 scholars attend the sessions, and yet twice each year the media call on them for their latest findings, at those times when thoughts turn to Jesus—Christmas and Easter. Their findings are presented as possessing great authority, when in fact they are strongly criticized by mainstream scholarship, including the late Fr. Raymond Brown.

Now, a new missionary outreach program is under way, taking the Jesus Seminar “on the road,” visiting cities throughout the country and abroad. Those who attend these conferences often leave with their faith deeply shaken.

As if this was not a sufficient cause for concern, the Jesus Seminar is only the first installment in an ongoing revision of Christian thought and history. Promised sequels include:

The Paul Seminar. The authenticity and integrity of the Pauline letters will be examined according to the Jesus Seminar methodology. Will the Paul Seminar leave us with even 20 percent of the words of the apostle whose writings substantially contribute to the foundation of Christian thought?

The Canon Seminar. Its aim is to reconsider the New Testament. The scholars intend a clean sweep, overturning the work of the early Church councils. They will themselves decide which works should constitute a “New New Testament.” Considering they have already taken up the Gospel of Thomas as “the fifth Gospel,” their theological assumptions can only be deemed untrustworthy.

The Acts Seminar. The historical authenticity of the Acts of the Apostles will be evaluated, again using the same methodology. Since the Gospels have been declared historically unreliable, should we be surprised by what the findings of this seminar will be?

With this issue, Crisis begins to present some of the foremost minds in biblical scholarship to expose the Jesus Seminar and the fallacies it presents as scholarly truth. These articles result from Crisis Magazine’s “Response to The Jesus Seminar,” a well-received lecture series held in New York City at the end of 1999. The series was sponsored by Msgr. Michael Wrenn, a prominent pastor in the Archdiocese of New York, a noted New Testament scholar, and a valiant defender of the integrity of the Gospels.

The Seminar’s attack on the faith the Church has handed down across the centuries presents Catholics with the opportunity, at the dawn of the third Christian millennium, to arrive at a deeper authentic understanding of the Person, words, and deeds of Jesus Christ by reacquainting ourselves with the writings of His first followers in the company of scholars whose thoughts are tuned to the mind of the Church and are in keeping with the immemorial faith of the apostles, the fathers of the Church, and the saints through the centuries.

Author

  • Rev. Rodger Hunter Hall, STL

    Rev. Rodger Hunter Hall, Assistant Professor of Theology at Christendom College's graduate school, is a priest of the Archdiocese of LAquila in the Abruzzi region of Italy, and a librarian specializing in religion and philosophy at the Library of Congress. He is a former editor of Crisis Magazine and a contributor to its online successor, Inside Catholic.

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