The Five Gospels has some people seeing red—but not in the way its editors intended. When a Gary, Indiana newspaper last December reported on the book, some local residents demonstrated their disapproval by burning copies of the paper and canceling their subscriptions.
The offending article, “Biblical Scholars Take Words Out of Jesus’s Mouth—New Book Claims Jesus Didn’t Say 80% of What’s Attributed to Him,” appeared on the front page of the December 12, 1993 Post-Tribune. Written by David Crumm of the Knight-Ridder News Agency, the article reviewed the purpose and conclusions of the Jesus Seminar as represented in The Five Gospels, giving examples of the sayings traditionally attributed to Jesus that the Seminar’s scholars accepted as authentic, but also citing conclusions that some people found offensive (such as, “Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah and did not predict the end of the world”).
Some local churches felt the front-page treatment and the substance of the article required a response. They organized a December 26 public burning of the paper in protest. Twenty Baptist churches in the area agreed to the protest and 100 people gathered to “wipe the mud off the image of Jesus Christ,” as one minister put it. At the demonstration the minister stressed the need for a free press but called for it to be more sensitive to the community it serves.
In response, Post-Tribune editor William W. Sutton Jr. published an apology in a December 27 editorial—not for the article, which he defended as well-written and unbiased, but for having deleted a number of critical comments against the Seminar’s approach that were included in the original version of the article.
Ironically, the Jesus Seminar accepts as authentic Jesus’ admonition to turn the other cheek; the outraged citizens of Indiana apparently do not.