The headline of the newspaper article caught my eye: “Scholars Vote on Which Quotes Are Really Christ’s.” Are the sayings of Jesus up for vote? I thought. Apparently they are—at least by one group of New Testament scholars.

That article appeared some months ago. By now the work of the Jesus Seminar has gained national attention. Led by Dr. Robert W. Funk, recently retired professor of religious studies at the University of Montana, the seminar is a national organization of about 30 senior fellows and a larger circle of corresponding fellows. With a few exceptions, these are all professional New Testament scholars of liberal theological persuasion. In addition to the professionals, the seminar includes associates—interested lay persons, students, and sponsors.

The purpose of the seminar, according to Dr. Funk, is “to inquire simply and rigorously after the voice of Jesus, after what he really said.” This will involve a radical reassessment of the “Jesus tradition.” And why is such a reassessment necessary? Because, it is alleged, much of what the Gospels report Jesus to have said did not come from him but is early Christian teaching, reflecting various needs of the church. Thus, for example, some scholars say the pronouncement of Jesus in Mark 2:27, “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath,” was not spoken by the historical Jesus but was put in his mouth by the early church as a weapon against Jewish opposition.

M. Eugene Boring, one of the more prominent members of the Jesus Seminar and a professor at Texas Christian University, reports the results of a study he made of the Beatitudes as found in Luke’s gospel. The first three (Luke 6:20b–21) ...

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