Large Brains

Ann Spangler
Ann Spangler
2011 10 Oct

The Jesus Seminar is a scholarly think tank that meets to discuss the historicity of Jesus. Its members, some of whom are atheists, vote with red, pink, gray, or black beads to try to determine whether the gospels accurately report what Jesus might have said or done. Red beads mean that Jesus said it. Pink means that a saying is close to what he said. Gray means he didn’t say it but that the saying contains elements of his teaching. Black means the saying didn’t come from Jesus at all. Several years ago the Seminar concluded that of all the words in the Lord’s Prayer as recorded in Matthew’s Gospel, the only words that could be conclusively attributed to Jesus were: “Our” and “Father.”

According to the Jesus Seminar, Jesus was nothing more than a humble sage from Nazareth who never claimed to be divine. Instead, they say that New Testament writers and the Gentile church were guilty of inflating his significance. By making such claims, they ignore important evidence to the contrary. Take the passage from Daniel 7 that speaks of Daniel’s dream, in which he saw “one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven.” According to a prominent Jewish scholar, people in first century Israel clearly thought of this as a Messianic passage. Furthermore, in contrast to all the other passages that seemed to indicate a purely human Messiah, they understood the passage from Daniel as a reference to a divine Messiah.[1]

On the night before his death, Jesus attributed this passage to himself, replying to the high priest’s question about whether he was the Son of God: “In the future, you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” At that the high priest tore his clothes and accused him of blasphemy. Why? Because everyone in the room would have understood exactly what Jesus was saying. He was claiming to be the divine Messiah.

Ironically, the group that is supposed to be dedicated to discovering the historical Jesus has been guilty of spreading a number of historical inaccuracies about him. It is tempting to dismiss their findings by echoing the words of Albert Einstein, who spoke of people who have “been given a large brain by mistake.”

The gospels tell us that Jesus is both “Son of God” and “Son of Man,” the one who became like us so that we could become like him. He is the one seated on the throne, destined to reign forever.

[1] David Flusser, The Sage from Gaililee (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 107-16.