Friday, October 26, 2007


I found my book for which I have been looking ever since our last move. In June of 06 we moved to San Antonio and ever since I have been looking for my copy of The Five Gospels, the Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus, 1993, the product of the Jesus Seminar. Today, while rearranging our garage I found it!

That discovery was especially keen to me because I am currently teaching a class at church called "Saving Jesus from the Radical Right (and the Extreme Secular Left)" and this book will be helpful to share with the class.

JESUS' WORDS. In case you don't know, this book is the product of a group of bibical scholars (some 65 of them; they are known as the "Jesus Seminar") who have analysed the words purportedly said by Jesus in the more popular translations and made determinations as to the probability that the historical Jesus said those words.

It is the contention of most of the scholars of this project that the traditional gospels contain layers of material, some of it is historical, more of it is an expression of the perspectives of the early Christian community.

Marcus Borg says it this way: the Bible is the product of two historical communities, ancient Israel and the early Christian movement.. As such it is a human product, not a divine product. It tells us of the experiences and understandings of those communities. It is not the "Word of God" but is the early communities' words about their response to God--the laws they developed, thier eithical teachings, their prayers, their hopes and dreams. [To read more of Marcus Borg's work, go to the Blog Archive 2007, May --- "Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time".]

What we have then, in all the gospels, are some words which probably are the actual words of Jesus, and actual events. But we also have understandings of who Jesus was, influenced by the years of veneration and worship---and the experiences the community had with the risen Christ (or Christ's Spirit, or Spirit).

The Jesus Seminar scholars have developed a unique way of grading the purported "words of Jesus" to determine if the words are authentically Jesus', or if they have come from the traditional community. In the book one finds four distinctions: (1) Jesus undoubtedly said this or something very like it. (2) Jesus probably said something like this. (3) Jesus did not say this, but the idea is close to his thinking. (4) Jesus did not say this. It represents the perspective of a later tradition.

The book is a weighty tome, giving the SV translation for the gospels (including Thomas) as well as detailed commentary supporting their decision re the authenticity of the traditional words.

SCHOLAR'S VERSION (SV). One of the reasons this translation began was due to the discovery of the Gospel of Thomas. Earlier translations were considered to be "wooden" and "tentative". This translation attempts to render into contemprary English the colloquialisms and aphorisms of the Greek texts. Here is an example of the contrast in the translations of one passage:

But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrits! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves and when others are going in, you stop them.

This translation is from the New Revised Standard Version, Matthew 23.13. Compare it to the Scholar's Version:

You scholars and Pharisees, you imposters! Damn you! You slam the door of Heaven's domain in people's faces. You yourselves don't enter, and you block the way of those trying to enter.

"Woe" is not a part of the average American's working vocabulary. If a person wants to curse someone, they don't say "Woe unto you!" but are more likely to say "Damn you!".

The New Revised Standard Translation, like many other modern translations, retains the "style" of speech of the King James Version; or, attempts to put Engish words in the same order as the Greek source. This practice leads to a style not compatible with contemporary usage.

Another very important factor in the production of the Scholar's Version is that it is "free of ecclesiastical and religious control, unlike other major translations into English, including the King James Version and its descendants (Protestant), the Douay-Rheims Version and its progeny (Catholic) , and the New International Version (Evangelical)." The SV is not bound by the dictates of church councils (it has not denominational axes to grind, nor "orthodox" doctrines to defend). Its contents and organization vary from the more traditional versions.

ET CETERA. The book (553 pp) is full of essays on topics like: (1) The Seven Pillars of Scholastic Wisdom, (2) The Jesus of History and the Christ of Faith, (3) The Gospels in Greek, (4) A Map of Gospel Relationships, (5) Rules of Written Evidence, (6) Who Wrote the Gospels, (7) The Rules of Oral Evidence, (8) The Jesus Seminar at Work (analytical methods).

Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar. THE FIVE GOSPELS, The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1993.