Jesus Under Fire

6 June 2008

Edited by J.P. Moreland and Michael Wilkins, with contributions from eight conservative authors, Jesus Under Fire functions as a response to the liberal interpretation of the life and work of Jesus Christ offered by the Jesus Seminar. The Jesus Seminar is a controversial and relatively well advertised group of approximately 200 scholars who have argued that the historical Jesus did not do or say the majority of things recorded of him in the New Testament. By casting individual votes, the Seminar has attempted to determine the probability of a recorded teaching or deed of Christ being authentic. In Jesus Under Fire, a group of conservative scholars responds to the claims of the Jesus Seminar and tries to establish that the Orthodox Christian understanding of Jesus is not only the most fulfilling, but the most historically accurate.

The Jesus Seminar makes use of a number of gratuitous and unlikely presuppositions, by which it judges the historical trustworthiness of the Scriptures. Many of these presuppositions are not only in need of justification, but many of them reflect a clear anti-supernaturalistic bias. This book exposes those biases for what they are, and demonstrates that when we take them away, the conclusions of the Jesus Seminar are on very fragile ground indeed.

In addition to combating the claims of the Jesus Seminar, this book will also clue readers in to a more realistic conception of the nature of the Bible. In chapter 3, Darrell Bock discusses the words recorded of Jesus, and asks whether they were live, jive, or memorex. The Jesus Seminar takes the jive approach, concluding that the majority of things recorded in the New Testament were not actually spoken by Jesus but were in fact invented by the Church and the original writers. They assume that the authors of the Gospels had no qualms about inventing sayings of Jesus Christ for use in their communities. This perspective is shown to be unjustified and to utilize overly restrictive applications of criterion of authenticity. But opposed to this liberal perspective, the common Christian’s perspective seems to be that the words were memorex, and therefore perfectly recorded. If it’s colored red in the Bible, then it is the exact word that Jesus spoke two thousand years ago. Usefully, Bock also dispels us of this simplistic notion, showing that this is not how ancient history was recorded and it was not how the Gospels were written. Nevertheless, we need not despair and fall into irrelevant liberalism, for the words of Jesus are recorded in the ‘live’ fashion, according to Bock. Thus, they faithfully represent the words and the teachings of the historical Jesus. Christians who have adopted an overly wooden and unrealistic view of the way the Gospels were written will benefit immensely from this discussion.

Another highlight is the essay by Gary Habermas concerning the miracles of Jesus. The Seminar, along with other liberal interpreters, tend to give credence only to those miracles that can be ‘explained away’ as essentially non-supernatural. Habermas exposes that there is no objective basis for this distinction, and that such a false distinction can only be maintained if a previous bias against the miraculous is imposed upon the text. The book also contains a characteristically excellent discussion of the evidence for the resurrection by William Lane Craig, which will be especially useful for those who have never been exposed to such material.

In general, I found Jesus Under Fire to be a successful critique of the approach and the findings of the Jesus Seminar. For those people who have been drawn in by their controversial findings and media exposure, this book should provide a useful critique. At times the essays seemed a bit wordy and difficult to read, but in general the chapters were well-written. Moreover, the breadth of topics and issues discussed was impressive. Jesus Under Fire is therefore highly recommended.


  1. This is a website that I’ve been in need of. Thanks for taking on the load and be encouraged that while few people comment, many are affected.

    — Chuck    Jun 6, 10:01 AM    #
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