by David Sisler

I did not expect Peter Jennings to find Jesus on Monday night, certainly not the Jesus of the Bible, not with members of the Jesus Seminar as his primary guides. Mr. Jennings said, "It is difficult for a journalist to get this story right." It is especially difficult if advocates for both sides of the story are not consulted in your research. To be fair, perhaps I should say, if both sides of the story are not aired I do not know what was left on the cutting room floor.

If you watched ABC's The Search for Jesus, you know that two men were consulted repetitively, identified as "scholars," and their comments were presented as, well, gospel. The first was Marcus Borg, a fellow of the Jesus Seminar and professor of religion and culture in the department of philosophy at Oregon State University. The second was Robert W. Funk, the founder of the Jesus Seminar.

The Jesus Seminar began to make headlines with their first press releases, and their predisposition against a literal interpretation of the New Testament could easily be seen. For example: "Jesus Didn't Claim to Be Messiah, Scholars Say" (San Francisco Chronicle, October 18, 1987); "Lord's Prayer Not Jesus's, Scholars Say" (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, October 15, 1988); "Jesus Didn't Promise to Return, Bible Scholars Group Says" (Los Angeles Times, March 5, 1989).

Eventually they published a 500-page work about the sayings of Jesus called, The Five Gospels (the traditional four, plus an account by Thomas). Those scholars, not one of whom was a member of the 7000-member Society of Biblical Literature, an internationally recognized academic association, declared that only 18 percent of the sayings attributed to Jesus in the Gospels were actually said by Jesus. Those scholars, not one of whom was from an institution of higher learning with recognized new Testament faculties, like Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Duke, Union, Emory or Chicago (and some of whom had no academic credentials at all) did decide that Jesus actually said part of "The Lord's Prayer" the first two words.

Dr. Gregory A. Boyd, Ph.D., Princeton Theological Seminary, states, "The Jesus Seminar represents an extremely small number of radical-fringe scholars who are on the far, far left wing of New Testament thinking. It does not represent mainstream scholarship." Dr. Boyd was not seen with Peter Jennings.

Early in the broadcast, Mr. Jennings said, "Scholars told us early on they don't take everything they read literally." He should have clarified that to say, they don't take everything they read in the Bible literally. The scholars of the Jesus Seminar give incredible credence to what they identify as the "hypothetical source Q."

Q is a work by an anonymous author from which all of the gospel writers copied, they say. Q is for the German word "quella" which means "sources." The Q document no longer exists. No one has ever seen Q. No one has ever read the original Q. There are not even any copies of Q. Regardless of those apparent problems, the Q document is one of the pillars of the Jesus Seminar. One of their crucial supporting parts, is hypothetical. Hypothetical, in the words of The American College Dictionary, is "supposed, problematical, and not well supported by evidence."

And those are the people who guided Peter Jennings in his search for Jesus.

Repeatedly during the two hour broadcast, Mr. Jennings said, "according to the Gospels." Repeatedly during the two hour broadcast, Mr. Jennings' scholars denied almost everything the Gospels said. There was no Bethlehem star, no angels, and no wise men. He wasn't even born in Bethlehem. They said.

They acknowledged that Jesus may have fasted. The Gospels say for forty days, but Robert Borg said, "Fasting brings about alterations in consciousness," so we can discount Jesus seeing the devil during that time.

The experts said that the miracles were invented as advertisements for fledgling Christianity. They said travelers to Jerusalem always celebrated, so Palm Sunday was not really a special recognition of Jesus as Messiah.

Robert Funk said that Jesus "died for the integrity of his vision" not for our sins, as the Gospels say.

Although Jesus was most certainly crucified, the scholars declared that there was no resurrection. The resurrection story, according to ABC's scholars, was borrowed from ancient Eastern mystery cults, which also had resurrection stories. Why then did none of these stories ever produce a faith which has, quite literally, changed the world? "There is," Peter Jennings said, "no denying the extraordinary influence Jesus has in people's lives... The truly faithful find a remarkable power in him." There Mr. Jennings is correct. Finding a powerful Jesus, a life-changing Jesus, is totally a matter of faith.


Published in The Augusta Chronicle 7/01/2000

Copyright 2000 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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