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Confronting the Jesus Seminar

An Assignment for NT 5000: Introduction to New Testament

History, especially the lost pieces in the history are always very attractive to modern people. Due to the increasing audience of online media and Social Network, it’s becoming easier nowadays for scholars and even normal people to publish and announce their challenges or new findings against traditional history. I used to laugh at the Moon Landing Conspiracy Theories which claims that some or all elements of the Apollo program and the associated Moon landings were hoaxes staged by NASA. But when I got opportunity to look into their arguments, I found that they established a very logical expound based on questionable assumptions. [1] It’s also true in the field of theology. A group 150 critical scholars and laymen founded the Jesus Seminar in 1985. The seminar uses votes with colored beads to decide their collective view of the historicity of the deeds and sayings of Jesus. They mainly published their findings in three reports: The Five Gospels (1993), The Acts of Jesus (1998), and The Gospel of Jesus (1999).

The research approach used by Jesus Seminar is very different from traditional Christian faith. They deny the supernatural events described in the Scripture, and they leverage higher criticism to decide what parts of narratives in the Scripture are true and what parts are doubtful. They use four colors to mark all the words attributed to Jesus gospels, indicating the probability of whether they are truly from Jesus or not. According to this approach, only fifteen sayings are colored red (meaning “Jesus undoubtedly said this”) in all of the Gospels put together.[2] The Jesus Seminar is not solely doing the historical research; they are opening the door of challenging the canonization of the Scripture.

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Discussion on Mark 15:21

An assignment for New Testament Survey

In Mark 15:21, when Jesus was led to the place where he was going to be crucified, the soldiers forced a passerby named Simon of Cyrene to carry the cross for Jesus. It is also recorded in other two synoptic gospels, Matthew 27:32 and Luke 23:26. I was asked several times by some believers in the church on the significance of this person. I also found different interpretations on the figure of Simon. Some even explain that this insertion indicates that sometimes strangers need to sacrifice because of the persecution to Christians, while some claim that Simon’s act is a deed of sympathetic magnanimity.[1]

So we fist need to know why Simon took the cross over from Jesus. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:41) Jesus says “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.” According to many commentary books, the Roman rule over Israel of the 1st century was a very oppressive and dominating government. Craig Keener says in his commentary on the situation: “Because tax revenues did not cover all the Roman army’s needs, soldiers could requisition what they required. Romans could legally demand local inhabitants to provide forced labor if they wanted and were known to abuse this privilege.”[2] In the same way, Simon was forced by a Roman soldier to help carry the cross that crucified Christ. Betz notes that “the victim of such a despicable request was legally obliged to comply.”[3]

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