The New Red-Letter Edition of the Five Gospels will be published by Polebridge Press, Sonoma, California. The fifth Gospel in the study is the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas.


Headlines of stories about the Jesus Seminar often highlight dimensions of its work perceived as most likely to cause offense: “Scholars Say Jesus Was Often Misquoted,” “Scholars Question Roots of Scripture,” “Scholars Seek to Discredit Christ,” “Why Do These Scholars Call Themselves Christian?”


“Mainstream” biblical scholarship refers to the type of biblical scholarship practiced in most university departments of religious studies and in seminaries of mainstream denominations, and thus in the training of their clergy (I refer generally to Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Congregationalists, Disciples of Christ, some Baptists and, increasingly since World War II, Roman Catholics). “Fundamentalist” and much of “conservative-evangelical” biblical scholarship accepts a very different framework for understanding the Gospels, explicitly or implicitly affirming that the historical truthfulness of the Gospels is “guaranteed” by God.


Kosher laws of the Hebrew Bible divide food into categories of “clean” and “unclean.” Only the former may be eaten. See Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14.



See my essay, “A Renaissance in Jesus Studies,” Theology Today 45 (1988), pp. 280–292.


Cullen Murphy, “Who Do Men Say That I Am?” The Atlantic, December 1986, pp. 37–58; John P. Meier, “Jesus Among the Historians,” The New York Times Book Review, December 21, 1986, pp. 1, 16–19.


These differences can easily be seen by anybody spending even a small amount of time with a “synoptic parallels” in which the texts of Matthew, Mark and Luke are printed in parallel columns. The most widely used edition is B.H. Throckmorton, ed., Gospel Parallels (New York: Nelson, 1967).


For an accessible summary description of the criteria, see W. Barnes Tatum, In Quest of Jesus: A Guidebook (Atlanta: Knox, 1982), pp. 76–77. For a more sustained discussion, see Norman Perrin, Rediscovering the Teaching of Jesus (New York: Harper & Row, 1967), pp. 15–49; Perrin seems to me to give too much priority to the criterion of dissimilarity.


Though the majority of mainstream scholars accept the two-source theory, a movement centered around Prof. W. R. Farmer of Southern Methodist University has been pressing vigorously for a reexamination of this position. See, for example, Farmer’s Jesus and the Gospel (Philadelphia; Fortress, 1982).


In the judgment of some scholars, the Gospel of Thomas contains material as old as anything in the canonical Gospels. For a representative treatment, see Stevan Davies, The Gospel of Thomas and Christian Wisdom (New York; Seabury, 1983). For the story of the discovery and significance of the Nag Hammadi documents, see especially John Dart, The Jesus of Heresy and History (San Francisco; Harper & Row, 1988). In Biblical Archaeology Review, see James Brashler, “Nag Hammadi Codices Shed New Light on Early Christian History,” BAR 10:01.


There is near unanimity within mainstream scholarship about this understanding of Jesus’ use of parables and proverbs/aphorisms. For a representative treatment, see the work of John Dominic Crossan, especially In Parables (New York: Harper & Row, 1973), and In Fragments: The Aphorisms of Jesus (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1983). For a very recent treatment, see Bernard Brandon Scott, Hear Then the Parable (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1989).


For a fuller discussion of the positive and negative forms of the criterion of dissimilarity and a sustained critique of the latter, see my Conflict, Holiness and Politics in the Teaching of Jesus (New York: Edwin Mellen, 1984), pp. 20–24, 283–285.


See, for example, S.G.F. Brandon, Jesus and the Zealots (New York: Scribners, 1967).


Some of the perceived corrosiveness is because of confusion about the relationship between historical judgments and theological convictions. To use an example from earlier in this essay: Whether or not Jesus said (or thought) he was both Lord and Christ should not be confused with whether or not he was (or is). For the early Church, he was certainly both Lord and Christ, as he is for Christians today, even though he may not have spoken of himself in those terms. To use an illustration from our national history, George Washington is quite properly referred to as Father of Our Country, even though he did not think of himself that way. That is, the truth of the New Testament’s perception of Jesus as both Lord and Christ is not dependent upon whether Jesus used those exalted titles himself.


It is important to note that one cannot settle historical questions by “belief.” The fact that I believe something to be true has no bearing on whether it is. Whether I believe that Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg address on the back of an envelope has nothing to do with whether he did. Thus belief cannot be used in historical judgments, not even as a way of tipping the scales when the evidence is evenly balanced. See what Van Harvey calls “the morality of historical judgment” in his The Historian and the Believer (New York: Macmillan, 1966).


For my own picture of the historical Jesus and his significance, see Jesus: A New Vision (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987). [This book is reviewed by Adela Yarbro Collins in the Bible Books section of this issue.-Ed.]