Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Jesus Seminar

In his 1963 book, Honest to God, Bishop John A.T. Robinson questioned the ways in which the traditional Christian doctrine of God could address the concerns of a church and culture that, Robinson said, had largely left the traditional doctrine behind. How could Christians, in his words, be ""honest to God?"" Now, Robert Funk, the provocative founder of the Jesus Seminar, asks a similar question about the ways in which late-20th century Christianity can be honest to Jesus in the light of work by the Jesus Seminar and other critics that argues that the traditional portait of Jesus as a supernatural miracle worker is neither supported by the Gospels nor meaningful to a contemporary technological society. Funk's Jesus is a person who ""caught a glimpse of what the world is really like when you look at it with God's eyes and who endeavored to pass that glimpse along in disturbing short stories we call parables."" But, the Gospels often conceal Funk's Jesus, so that he concludes that ""the New Testament conceals the real Jesus as frequently as it reveals him."" Funk proposes 21 theses, among them setting Jesus free from the ""scriptural and creedal and experiential prisons in which we have entombed him""; abandoning the doctrine of the atonement based upon the blood sacrifice of Jesus; and ""declaring that the New Testament is a highly uneven and biased record of various early attempts to invent Christianity."" With this last declaration, Funk, exhibiting a self-assurance that often borders on self-righteousness, advocates revising the canon of scripture by which the Christian church has measured itself for the past 2000 years. (Nov.)
 ~Publishers Weekly Book Review

Funk mentioned several places where the Gospels water down the words of Jesus. Matthew has Jesus say, "The last will be first and the first last." Mark evidently thought this sounded unreasonable, so he wrote, "Many of the first will be last." Luke quotes Jesus as saying, "Give to everyone who begs from you," but Matthew only says, "Give to one who begs from you." Later a second century writer quotes this statement and adds a stern warning that God will punish those who beg unless they are really in need. (Didache 1:5-6). Do you see how his followers tried to fit Jesus' most extreme teachings into the realities of everyday life?

Jesus said it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. (Matthew 19:24) To make this one easier to swallow, Matthew, Mark, and Luke add a standard cliche - "but all things are possible for God." And there is a caravan pass in Israel called the Needles' Eye, which a camel can squeeze through if it's not loaded with baggage. So some claim that this is the "needle's eye" he was talking about. Funk says that "These are feeble and misguided attempts to take the sting out of the aphorism and rob Jesus' words of their edge." (The Five Gospels, p. 24)

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