Why Catholics Should Reject the Jesus Seminar

Published December 1, 1999

Deal W. Hudson

Normally the average Catholic need not worry about a group of academicians who meet every year to discuss the “historicity” of the Gospels. These debates have been going on inside ivy walls for over a century. But with the recent national road-show of the Jesus Seminar, founded in 1985 and led by Protestant scholar Robert W. Funk, we are witnessing more than innocuous speculation for the initiated few—we are witnessing a well-funded, public assault on the Jesus Christ held in faith by the Church.

For the past 15 years, the members of the Jesus Seminar, composed of a who’s who of colleges, universities, and seminaries, have met annually to vote on the words and deeds of Jesus they consider to be historically accurate. They have come to the conclusion that more than 82 percent of what he said in the four Gospels is not historically accurate. Of the deeds of Jesus in the Gospels, 176 in number, only ten are historical. Thus, Jesus was not resurrected from the dead and did not pray the Lord’s Prayer.

Jesus, as taught by the Jesus Seminar, is a not a Savior whose redemptive death is the way of our salvation but rather an ancient cynic philosopher with some interesting things to say about the importance of love and relationships. This message is something the “Jesus Seminar on the Road” is taking to the Christian layperson across the country. Its two-day seminars have or will be offered in California, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, British Columbia, Rhode Island, and Ohio. I became concerned about them when some Catholic friends of mine attended a seminar at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., and came back very confused.

Everyone knows that our Protestant brethren are more savvy when it comes to matters of biblical authority and interpretation than average Catholics in the pew. Catholics, it seems to me, have a strong but vague reverence for the words of Scripture. They lack exposure to the direct attacks on the authority of Scripture, while being more familiar with the dissenters’ attacks on the authority of the Magisterium. What Catholics need to realize is that Catholic dissenters, having failed in their attack on the Magisterium, have now begun using the avenue of the scriptural controversies raised by the Jesus Seminar. The literature of dissent is becoming more and more steeped in the appeals to Scripture understood historically apart from the faith of the Church.

This strategy is most clever. At the heart of the scholarly debate is a blatant challenge to the centuries-old faith of the Church, and indeed the entire Christian community. These attacks, under the guise of scholarly pursuits, threaten to undermine the living and apostolic faith in the Per-son, Divinity, and mission of Christ; the Church He founded; and the authority of the pope.

If the consensus of the Jesus Seminar prevails, the Gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John will be dismissed as mythical elaborations of the real Jesus found in Mark and a hypothetical document known as “Q,” itself a controversial and much-debated document whose existence remains speculative.

At the heart of the debate is the question of whether Matthew and Luke rely on the Gospel of Mark and Q (the “Two-Source” theory). If Mark is the earliest Gospel and the source for the others, then something has to account for the presence in Matthew and Luke of what is not found in Mark, thus the necessity of Q.

The place given to Q as a source of Jesus’s sayings has led some scholars to accept the importance of the Gospel of Thomas, an apocryphal Gospel discovered in 1945 but written in the late-second to fourth century. Thomas, like Q, contains nothing about Jesus’s redemptive death and resurrection but rather absurd sayings, such as:

Simon Peter said to Him, “Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of Life.” Jesus said, “I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

If the Jesus Seminar vision of Christianity were to prevail, we would be left with a very strange Jesus indeed. And in the name of scholarship and enlightenment, these scholars would leave us less in our Church and in our Faith than what they have left us of Jesus’s words and deeds.

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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