Get the CD Now!

The Jesus Seminar: Decisions of Authenticity

The Jesus Seminar: Decisions of Authenticity

This collection of decisions made by the Jesus Seminar in favor of authenticity includes all of the "red" sayings and most of the "pink" sayings. Sayings have been included on the basis that some arguments were offered in the text that favor authenticity of the sayings. What emerges is a helpful database of sayings that arguably go back to the historical Jesus. For more information on the pink sayings not included here and on the decisions concerning gray and black sayings, refer to The Five Gospels.

On Mark 2:19 (// Mt 9:15a // Lk 5:34)
"Fasting and a wedding celebration are simply incompatible, according to Mark 2:19: guests do not fast as long as the celebration is in progress (so long as the groom is around). Some form of this saying probably goes back to Jesus since it is clear that he and his disciples did not fast, in contrast to the followers of John the Baptist and the Pharisees, who did (compare Mark 2:18)." (p. 47)

On Mark 3:27 (Mt 12:29 // Lk 11:21-22, Th 35:1-2)
"In its present context in Mark and Q, Jesus employs this bold analogy to underscore the point that no one can invade Satan's domain (of demons) without first overpowering Satan. It is difficult to conceive of the early Christian community attributing this robust and colorful figure of speech to Jesus if he did not, in fact, say it. In addition, the saying is attested in three independent sources, one of which is Thomas 35:1-2 where it appears without narrative context. This means that it can be traced back to the oral period preceding the written gospels." (p. 52)

On Mk 4:21 (Lk 8:16, Mt 5:15, Lk 11:33, Th 33:2-3)
"In spite of variations in content and context, the Fellows of the Seminar designated the saying pink in all five of its forms. The reasons for this judgment are: (1) it is Jesus' style to speak in figures that cannot be taken literally; (2) the application of the saying is left ambiguous; (3) the saying is well attested; (4) the saying is short and memorable. Because of the variations the Fellows voted pink rather than red." (p. 57)

On Mk 10:25 (// Mt 19:24 // Lk 18:25)
"Graphic exaggeration is typical of many genuine parables and aphorisms of Jesus. And a humorous hyperbole of this sort is more likely to come from Jesus than from a more serious-minded follower of his.
"The comic disproportion between the camel and the needle's eye presented difficulties to the Christian community from the very beginning. Some Greek scribes substituted the Greek word rope (kamilon) for the term camel (kamelon) to reduce the contrast, while some modern but misguided interpreters have claimed that the "needle's eye" was the name of a narrow gate or pass, which a camel would find difficult, but not impossible, to pass through. The fact that this saying has been surrounded by attempts to soften it suggests that it was probably original with Jesus." (p. 92)

On Mk 12:17 (Th 100:1-4, EgerG 3:1-6)
"Everything about this anecdote commends its authenticity. Jesus' retort to the question of taxes is a masterful bit of enigmatic repartee. He avoids the trap laid for him by the question without really resolving the issue: he doesn't advise them to pay the tax and he doesn't advise them not to pay it; he advises them to know the difference between the claims of the emperor and the claims of God. Nevertheless, the early Christian interpretation of this story affirmed the Christian obligation to pay the tax. Paul struggled with this issue (Rom 13:1-7) and came out on the side of expedience: pay everyone their proper dues, including the civil authorities, who have received their appointment from God." (p. 102)

On Mt 5:38-41 (// Lk 6:29)
"The aphorisms in 5:38-41 are case parodies with a very narrow range of application. In contrast, the aphorisms in 5:42 are universal injunctions: give to everyone who begs and lend to all who want to borrow - everywhere, at all times. These sayings are short and pithy, they cut against the social grain, and they indulge in humor and paradox. The person who followed them literally would soon be destitute. It is inconceivable that the primitive Christian community would have made them up, and they appear not to have been part of the common lore of the time." (p. 145)

On Mt 5:38-48 (// Lk 6:27-28, 32-35)
"The admonition 'love your enemies' is somewhere close to the heart of the teachings of Jesus to the extent that we can recover them from the tradition. The Jesus Seminar ranked the admonition to love enemies the third highest among sayings that almost certainly originated with Jesus (the other two included the complex about turning the other cheek, Matt 5:39-42, and the cluster of beatitudes, Luke 6:20-22). The injunction to love enemies is a memorable aphorism because it cuts against the social grain and constitutes a paradox: those who love their enemies have no enemies." (p. 147)

On Mt 6:9-23 (// Lk 11:2-4)
"Jesus undoubtedly employed the term 'Abbas' (Aramaic for 'Father') to address God. Among Judeans the name of God was sacred and was not to be pronounced (in the Dead Sea Scrolls community, a person was expelled from the group for pronouncing the name of God, even accidentally). Yet Jesus used a familiar form of address and then asked that the name be regarded as sacred - a paradox that seems characteristic of Jesus' teachings." (p. 149)

On Mt 7:7-8 (// Lk 11:9-10, Th 2:1-4, 92:1, 94:1-2)
"The trio of sayings in Q makes the assurance to those who ask, seek, knock unconditional. The promise that every request will be met is a gross exaggeration and surprising, to say the least. That aspect led many Fellows to think it stemmed from Jesus; they agreed on a pink designation." (p. 155)

On Mt 11:7-8 (// Lk 7:24-25, Th 78:1-3)
"The first two rhetorical questions, on the other hand, employ vivid images with an ironic edge. And the implied critique of a well-dressed nobility is consistent with Jesus' sayings that favor the poor (Luke 6:20) and display a disregard for clothing (Luke 6:29, 12:22-28). A majority of the Fellows agreed that Jesus said something like this." (p. 178)

On Mt 18:12-14 (// Lk 15:4-7, Th 107:1-3)
"The shepherd whoa abondons the ninety-nine sheep on the mountains or in the wilderness and goes in search of one stray is taking chances an ordinary shepherd would not take. Such exaggerations are typical of Jesus' parables: the man who finds the treasure buried in the field and sells all he has and buys that field (Matt 13:44 // Thom 109:1-3); the trader sells all he possesses in order to buy the single priceless pearl (Matt 13:45-46 // Thom 76:1-3). Nevertheless, the versions of these parables in Matthew and Luke have been modified to match the emerging interests of the Christian movement in repentance and conversion (note Matt 18:14 and Luke 15:7)." (p. 215)

On Mt 18:23-25
"If the story goes back to Jesus - and in the judgment of most of the Fellows it does - it is a parable, not, as Matthew represents it, an allegory. A parable has a signle point; an allegory is coded theology. As a parable, the story contrasts the responses of two figures in the story, the secular ruler and the first slave. One is willing to forgive a staggering obligation, the other refuses to cancel a paltry sum. The parable invites the listener to choose the appropriate mode of behavior." (p. 218)

On Mt 20:1-15
"In this parable, both groups of participants get what they do not expect: the first get less than they expected, in spite of their agreement with the owner (v. 2); the last get more than they expected, since as idlers they could not have expected much. This reversal of expectations comports with Jesus' proclivity to reverse the expectations of the poor: 'God's domain belongs to you' (Luke 6:20) and the rich: 'It's easier for a camel to squeeze through a needle's eye than for a wealthy person to get into God's domain' (Mark 10:25//Matt 19:24//Luke 18:25). As a consequence, the Fellows awarded this parable a red designation, although it is attested only by Matthew."

On Lk 6:20-21 (// Mt 5:3-6, Th 54, Th 69:2)
"The Fellows of the Seminar were virtually unanimous in their view that Jesus is the author of the first three congratulations. They are also convinced that the Lukan version of those addressed to the poor, the weeping, and the hungry are more original." (p. 290)

On Lk 6:41-42 (// Mt 7:3-5, Th 26:1-2)
"In any case, the grotesque comparison of a speck or sliver and timber sounds very much like the exaggerated language of Jesus. Thomas (26:1-2) preserves an abbreviated form of the same saying. All three versions were awarded pink status, in spite of relatively minor variations."

On Lk 9:58 (// Mt 8:20, Th 86:1-2)
"Jesus appears to have much in common with Cynic teachers who wandered about in the ancient world, offering their sage advice. However, the Fellows of the Seminar believe that such ascetic behavior ran counter to Jesus' social world and would have been sufficiently distinctive to have attracted atention. In addition, the saying employs images that are concrete and vivid. And here, as elsewhere, Jesus does not speak of himself in the first person, but refers to himself in the third person as the 'son of Adam.'" (p. 317)

On Lk 9:59-60 (// Mt 8:22)
"The fifth commandment reads: 'You are to honor your father and your mother.' Honoring parents entailed seeing to their proper burial. In this injunction Jesus is advising a potential follower to dishonor his father. This kind of behavior would not have been socially acceptable. Yet in relation to the claims of God's imperial rule, Jesus may have set normal obligations aside. At least the Fellows of the Seminar think he did so." (p. 317)

On Lk 10:30-35
"The imagery of the parable itself draws on the longstanding animosity between Judeans and Samaritans. The parable subverts the negative, stereotyped identity of the Samaritan and throws the conventional distinction between 'us' and 'them' into question. A Samaritan who goes to the aid of a person, probably a Judean, who has been assaulted and left for dead, after two representatives of the established religion have ignored him, has stepped across a social and religious boundary. Jesus' audience, which was made up of Judeans, would have viewed the story through the eyes of the victim in the idtch: the parable prompts them to think of the identification of their neighbor as a different ethnic group. The possibility of another kind of social world has come into view.
"As a metaphrorical tale that redraws the map of both the social and the sacred world, the Seminar regarded this parable as a classic example of the provocative public speech of Jesus the parabler." (p. 324)

On Lk 11:24-26 (// Mt 12:43-45)
"Spirits that have been cast out of their human homes wander through 'waterless places' (spirits were thought to reside in damp places and were especially connected with springs, wells, and outhouses). When they cannot find a new abode, they tend to return to their previous home. And they bring other unclean demons with them. So this vivid picture claims. It's a strange thing to report in the context of first-century exorcisms, which were thought to relieve victims permanently. The Fellows could not imagine why it would have been invented and attributed to Jesus if he did not in fact say it. Yet it has little connection with other teachings of Jesus." (pp. 330-331)

On Lk 12:22-31 (// Mt 6:25-34, Th 36)
"In these sayings, Jesus depicts the providence of God who cares for all creatures - birds, lilies, grass, and human beings. Fretting about food and clothing does not produce food and clothing. Serene confidence that God will provide undergirds Jesus' lifestyle as an itinerant, without home or bed, without knowing where the next meal will come from. This is the same sage who advocates giving both of one's everyday garments to someone who sues for one; who advises his followers to give to every beggar and to lend to those who cannot repay; who humorously suggests that a rich person can no more get into God's domain than a camel can squeeze through the eye of a needle; who sends his disciples out on the road without money, food, change of clothes, or bag to carry them in; who claims that God observes every sparrow and counts the hairs on every head. This bundle of sayings, all of which commanded red or pink designations by the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar, indicate why they also believe the heart of this collection on anxieties originated with Jesus, although not precisely in the words preserved for us in Q. When these sayings are taken together, a portrait of the historical Jesus begins to emerge." (p. 340)

On Lk 13:6-9
"On the other hand, it has a paratactic structure, suggesting that it retains, even in Luke's text, a form typical of an orally transmitted story. (Paratactic means the spare use of dependent clauses and complicated constructions; the storyteller tends to link simple sentences together with 'and.') Its ending is contrary to what one would expect from a tree so hopelessly barren, and it lacks specific application. An exaggerated hope of some sort is implicit, but not specified. A majority of the Fellows found these features sufficient to warrant a pink designation." (p. 345)

On Lk 13:20-21 (// Mt 13:33, Th 96:1-2)
"Like the mustard seed, the parable of the leaven makes light of an established symbol. Leaven was customarily regarded as a symbol for corruption and evil. Jesus here employs it in a positive sense. That makes his use of the image striking and provocative. "The mustard seed and the leaven are picture parblaes: they paint a simple but arresting picture that depends, for its cogency, on the juxtaposition of contrary images. To compare God's imperial rule to leaven is to compare it to something corrupt and unholy, just the opposite of what God's rule is supposed to be. This reversal appears to be characteristic of several of Jesus' sayings, such as 'the last will be first and the first last.' The Fellows included the parable of the leaven in that small group of sayings and parables that almost certainly originated with Jesus." (p. 347)

On Lk 14:16-24 (// Mt 22:1-14, Th 64:1-12)
"The original parable was probably the story of an anonymous host who gave a dinner party. He sent invitations to three potential guests, who may have some social standing in the community. They refuse for quite legitimate reasons, in accordance with the regulations that allow those conscripted to complete essential tasks. At banquet time, the host sends the servant around with a courtesy reminder that the feast is ready; this was established practice in the period. All the guests refuse to come. That is a surprising twist. The host then dispatches the servant to collect the more socially marginal, who are urged to come and fill the hall. These secondary guests are as surprised to be included as the listeners were surprised that those first invited all rejected the invitation. The parable, thus conceived, has all the earmarks of a genuine Jesus story." (p. 353)

On Lk 15:11-32
"On the other hand, several features of the parable suggest that it can probably be traced to Jesus: (1) Jesus' reputation as one who chose to fraternize with 'sinners' is not a motif peculiar to Luke, but is attested in both Mark (2:15-17) and Q (Luke 7:33-34//Matt 11:18-19). The reception given to the feckless son in the parable is thus consistent with the attitude of Jesus depicted in other independent sources. (2) The vocabulary of the story exhibits a mixture of Lukan and non-Lukan terms. This is consistent with Luke's habit of retelling a story he did not create: he tends to tell it in his own language. (3) The parable is not a mirror image of Luke's theology, according to which the gospel is rejected by the Judeans and then offered instead to the gentiles (compare Acts 28:17-18). Rather, at the end of the parable the elder brother is being invited to join in a celebration that the father urges him to understand as his party too. The parable represents the reconciliation of Judaean with Judean, not the replacement of Judeans with pagans. The return of the prodigal signifies the restoration of the family, and that means it's party time, if the older sibling can find it within himself to join in." (p. 357)

On Lk 16:1-8a
"This story does not moralize, unlike so much edifying teaching in both hellenistic Judean religion and early Christianity, and that exceptional quality became a large factor in the decision to attribute the parable to Jesus. To be sure, it does not commend crooked dealing, or encourage embezzlement and false accounting, and it does not belong to the same category of parable as the story of the rich man and Lazarus that Luke is about to record (16:19-31). It does commend the manager for shrewdness in the management of his worldly affairs, even under dubious circumstances, and that appealed to the Fellows as reason enough to warrant its inclusion among those stories that Jesus probably told." (p. 359)

On Lk 17:20-21 (// Th 113:2-4)
"It is undisputed that John the Baptist, the apostle Paul, and the early Christian community generally espoused the view that the end of the age was at hand. The question is: Did Jesus share this outlook or did he think of God's imperial rule as something more subtle, something already present in and among people? The saying recorded at Luke 11:20 would appear to support the second, non-apocalyptic view: 'But if by God's finger I drive out demons, then for you God's imperial rule has arrived.' The rule of evidence invoked in this instance is that Luke 17:20-21//Thom 113:1-4 does not fit the tendencies of the unfolding tradition, which were predominantly apocalyptic. The best explanation for the presence of sayings like these in the gospel record is that they originated with Jesus, who espoused a view unlike that of his predecessors and successors." (p. 365)

On Lk 17:33 (// Mt 10:39, Mk 8:35, Mt 16:25, Lk 9:24, Jn 12:25)
"This version of the saying that appears six times in the gospels was judged by the Fellows to be the closest to what Jesus actually said. It lacks the Christian additions of other variations found in Mark 8:35 and Matt 10:39; 16:25. Furthermore, it is paradoxical: how can one save life by forfeiting it? And how can one lose life by saving it? Such seemingly contradictory remarks appear to be typical of many things Jesus said. However, Luke has placed the saying in the context of apocalyptic warnings. His setting is undoubtedly secondary. The pink vote of the Fellows presupposes a contextless aphorism." (p. 367)

On Lk 18:1-8
"The parable itself, vv. 2-5, has no specific application. It exhibits the kind of unconventional features that are characteristic of the parables Jesus told: the judge grants the widow's request not because her case has merit or because he is impartial and just in his verdicts. He decides in her favor to be rid of her. He wants to avoid being harassed, perhaps to avoid having his honor or reputation beaten black-and-blue (such is the implication of the Greek term used here) by her continual coming to demand vindication. The judge's motives are similar to those of the friend who is awakened from sleep in the middle of the night by a request for bread, in Luke 11:5-8: he responds just because she asks. The assessment of the judge is as unconventional as the commendation of the disonest manager by the master in another parable (Luke 16:1-9).
"These features of the story inclined most of the Fellows to regard the parable as similar to one originally told by Jesus. It was given a pink rating. Because the interpretation of the parable in vv. 6-8 is a Lukan composition, it was voted black." (p. 368)

On Lk 20:46 (// Mk 12:38-39, Mt 23:5-7, Lk 11:43)
"Earlier in his gospel (11:43), Luke preserved a saying similar to the one in v. 46, which is derived from Sayings Gospel Q. This time he is copying from Mark. As a consequence, he joins a second saying (v. 47) to the first, following Mark. The Fellows designated the first saying pink, on the grounds that Jesus is likely to have had repeated contact with local petty officials, which is what the scholars were. These officials undoubtedly opposed him, especially after he began to attract crowds." (p. 380)

On Th 10 (Lk 12:49)
"Because the saying occurs as a single statement in Thomas and without Christianizing langauge, the Fellows awarded it a pink vote, whereas the Lukan version was voted gray. In Luke's version, Jesus is impatient for the fire to be ignited, suggesting that the fire will occur in the future. The Fellows found this apocalyptic note alien to Jesus. In Thomas' version, in contrast, the fire is already ignited, and Jesus is protecting it until it becomes a blaze. This threatening and subversive image seemed to the Fellows to be more characteristic of Jesus' language, hence the pink vote." (p. 479)

On Th 20:1-4 (Mt 13:31-32 // Lk 13:18-19, Mk 4:30-32)
"The mustard seed is an unlikely figure of speech for God's domain in Jesus' original parable. His listeners would probably have expected God's domain to be compared to something great, not something small and insignificant. As the tradition was passed on, it fell under the influence of two figures: that of the might cedar of Lebanon as a metaphor for a towering empire (Ezek 17:22-23); and that of the apocalyptic tree of Dan 4:12, 20-22. In Daniel, the crown of the tree reaches to heaven and its branches cover the earth; under it dwelll the beasts of the field and in its branches nest the birds of the sky. These well-known figures undoubtedly influenced the transmission and reshaping of the original parable." (p. 484)

On Th 31:1 (Mk 6:4 // Mt 13:57 // Lk 4:24, Jn 4:44)
"The saying about the prophet has a proverbial ring to it, and there are some similar sayings in pagan literature, although none about a prophet. There is no clear precedent or parallel in Israelite or Judean souces. In spite of its seemingly proverbial character, a majority of the Fellows were of the opinion that the simple proverb was plausible in the context of Jesus' activity and the rejection of him in his own village; his rejection is not something the evangelists would have invented. Accordingly, the saying merited a pink designation." (p. 491)

On Th 39:3 (Mt 10:16b)
"This saying, which may have been proverbial, is a paradox: it advises one to be both a dove and a snake at the same time, which is a combination of two incompatible things. Its paradoxical character commended it to the Fellows as something Jesus might have said. On the other hand, the contexts in both Matthew (10:16) and Thomas afford no clues to how Jesus may have applied it. The admonition may refer to the combination of shrewdness combined with modesty." (p. 495)

On Th 97:1-4
"The structure of this parable, recorded only by Thomas, is similar to that of the parable of the leaven (Thom 96:1-2//Matt 13:33//Luke 13:20-21). It has a surprising and provocative ending: the woman comes home with an empty, rather than a full, jar. A full jar would be the expected metaphor for God's imperial rule, so this ending is startling. The symbolism may fit with Jesus' tendency to portray the kingdom as having to do with the unnoticed or unexpected or modest (this is true also of the parable of the mustard seed, Thom 20:2//Mark 4:31-32//Matt 13:31-32//Luke 13:19)." (p. 524)

On Th 98:1-3
"It appeared to some of the Fellows that the story line of the parable originally had to do with reversal: the little guy beats the big guy by taking the precautions a prudent person would take before encountering the village bully. This, together with the scandalous nature of the image, prompted a majority of the Seminar to vote red or pink on the third ballot." (p. 525)

Go to the Chronological List of all Early Christian Writings

Please buy the CD to support the site, view it without ads, and get bonus stuff!

Early Christian Writings is copyright © Peter Kirby <E-Mail>.

Get the CD Now!

Kirby, Peter. "Greek Reconstruction of 0212." Early Christian Writings. <>.