The Jesus Seminar is a very small, self-selected group whose opinions represent a tiny minority of New Testament scholars. Because they know their findings are rejected by mainstream scholars (and for good reason), they decided to instead to go directly to the media, and because the media loves controversy their publicity is extremely disproportionate to their actual influence.

Their results:

  • Jesus did not say 82% of what the gospels attribute. Of the remaining 16%, they are only sure 2% is authentic. For example, in the Lord's Prayer, the seminar only believes Jesus said "Our Father".
  • The seminar then published "The Five Gospels", which contains the "regular" gospels along with the seminar's findings, along with the Gospel of Thomas (which is also rejected by mainstream scholars).

The Jesus Seminar sets themselves out to be unbiased and without a theological agenda. In reality though, it seems that they are at least as biased as evangelical scholars, and they've basically discovered what they've set out to find.

Problems with their methodology:

  • Firstly, they assume that the gospels are not even generally reliable. Their rationale is that the gospels record supernatural events (read: miracles). Because such things as walking on water and resurrection are unlikely, they are totally impossible. Therefore, the disciples did not see what they actually saw, and therefore the gospels are unreliable in reporting the truth. I personally think you can believe that nothing supernatural ever happens, but if you believe in God, I don't think it's reasonable to believe he can't interevene in ways that are supernatural. Anyway, with this criteria (which is already biased, there are good reasons to believe in the authenticity in the gospels), it's obvious how they've come to the conclusion that Jesus was not God or the Messiah.
  • Secondly, their criteria for deciding whether Jesus said something or not is biased. They assume that Jesus did not say what the gospels attribute to Him unless it can be proven that He did. In reality, this is the opposite to the assumptions historians usually use, as people generally do not lie about everything they record.
  • Thirdly, they argue Jesus was not unique. Like the many before Him, Jesus was simply another miracle worker. However, Jesus is unparalleled in sheer quantity, quality and authority (Jesus performed miracles in the power of God, not because he prayed to God for them) of His miracles.

Again, the Jesus Seminar represents is a very small group of radical scholars and do not represent the mainstream scholarship on the New Testament. They basically set out to show there's a big difference between the Jesus of faith and the Jesus of history, and that's what they've found. Naturally, evangelical Christians will be biased on their findings as well, and they make very strong claims about Jesus that are hard to believe. But, in my opinion, there is much stronger and more rational evidence for the Jesus of the Bible rather than the extreme opinions of the Jesus Seminar.

The group is basically trying to say Jesus was just an interesting guy, maybe even extraordinary, but definitely not supernatural; He was not God or the Messiah, and definitely not somebody with much relevance today.

Also see: Gospel of Thomas, and Are the gospels reliable?