Blackballing Scripture:
Scholarship Takes a Beading

by John MacArthur
This article first appeared in Masterpiece magazine and is copyright © 1991 by John F. MacArthur, Jr. All rights reserved.


"I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me" (John 14:6).

now a group of "experts" claims Jesus didn't really say that—one of the disciples or somebody else actually added it to the gospel record.
    Two hundred self-proclaimed authorities on the Bible just concluded six years of meetings called—ironically—the Jesus Seminar. Their goal was to identify the things in the gospels that Jesus really said. They made their decisions by majority vote.
    The scholars used a curious polling procedure. Each participant dropped a red bead into a ballot box for sayings he or she figured were probably authentic. Pink beads meant possibly authentic. Gray beads were used for sayings thought to have been altered by the disciples or early Christians. Black beads were the strongest "no" vote—used for passages deemed entirely fabricated or spoken by someone other than Jesus.
    The results are astonishing: the group decreed that only 31 of the of the more than 700 sayings attributed to Jesus in the gospels are unquestionably authentic (and 16 of those are duplicates from parallel passages!). More than half the sayings considered received the black bead.
    All totalled, the panel utterly rejected 80 percent of the words Scripture attributes to Jesus. Among the ousted passages are Matthew 5:11 ("Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me"), Mark 10:32-34 (in which Jesus foretold His crucifixion), all the apocalyptic sections, and everything in John—except 4:44 (which got a pink). Ironically, it says, "a prophet has no honor in his own country."
    Seminar founder Robert Funk reckons most mainline scholars will agree with their dumping of John's gospel, because "Jesus speaks regularly in adages or aphorisms, or in parables, or in witticisms created as a rebuff or retort in the context of dialogue or debate. It is clear he did not speak in long monologues of the type found in the Gospel of John."
    Thus decaying flotsam from the shipwreck of liberal theology continues to wash ashore.
    In a recent article in the Los Angeles Times (April 13, 1991), Dr. Robert Thomas, professor of New Testament at The Master's Seminary, pointed out the fallacy of these self-styled scholars who discount the obvious historical value of the gospels.
    "Whose perception of Jesus depicts the real Jesus, the perception of the earliest Christians or that of specialists working nearly 20 centuries later?" Dr. Thomas asked. "The verdict must favor the historical accuracy of the earliest perceptions found in the four Gospels."
    What tools did the Jesus Seminar scholars employ? Ultimately only one—the test of "political correctness." Taking a cue from secular academia, the fellows of the Jesus seminar simply dismissed every statement containing a hint of some truth or point of view that is rejected by the political liberals in our culture.
    Who determines what is politically correct? The same people who were radical protestors on university campuses in the 60s are now middle managers in the university system. Their ideological creed has become the test of orthodoxy in most academic circles. "Scholars" are expected to march lock-step behind them. Those who deviate from the party line forfeit their reputation in the academic community.
    Sacred dogma for the politically correct includes: equality for women, homosexuality as an "alternative lifestyle," environmental activism, animal rights, racial quotas, hard-line anti-war doctrine, and so on. While prating about "academic freedom," these people will try to censor anyone who dares challenge their world-view—even Jesus.
    And so the Jesus Seminar panel members, who hail mostly from secular academic settings, are only attempting to make Jesus politically correct.
    One merely needs to look at the panel's decisions to understand what their real agenda was. The parables of the Good Samaritan, the Unjust Steward, and the Mustard Seed; passages that are critical of the rich; commands to love one's enemies; and verses that entreat disciples to love one another—those all got red beads.
    Passages that call for repentance, affirm Jesus' deity, make difficult demands of disciples, or speak of the need for redemption and the new birth—those sections were literally blackballed.
    The Jesus Seminar is not finished yet. The panel is going to reconvene soon to evaluate the works of Jesus. Funk says he is "reasonably sure the seminar fellows are going to say that the Resurrection happened as a vision to followers such as Peter, James, and Paul." No doubt he's right. The scholars have already announced their conclusion that the disciples' accounts of an empty tomb are merely embellishments of Paul's report that the risen Christ had appeared to him.
    Will these politically correct skeptics continue bowdlerizing the bible? You can count on it.
    Please don't get the idea that I think the conclusions of the Jesus Seminar should be discarded lightly. On the contrary, I think they should be thrown away with as much force as possible.