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What Did Jesus Really Say?
About 40 scholars, all specialists in the study of the historical Jesus, are seated around a table. They have just completed their discussion of a saying attributed to Jesus in the Gospels. The time has come for each to vote on a simple but complex question: Do you think Jesus actually said that? Or, to frame the question in semitechnical language, is this saying of Jesus, as reported in one or more of the Gospels, historically authentic to Jesus? Each scholar votes by casting one of four differently colored balls into a ballot box: Red means “Yes, almost certainly”; pink means “More likely no than yes”; and black means “Almost certainly not.”
The Jesus Seminar, convened by New Testament scholar Robert Funk in the spring of 1985, is committed to a five-year collective examination of the historical authenticity of all the words attributed to Jesus in the New Testament and other ancient Christian sources. The ultimate publishing goal, scheduled for 1991, is The New Red-Letter Edition of the Five Gospels,a in which the words of Jesus will be printed in four colors, corresponding to the seminar’s voting. Such a systematic and collective study of the sayings of Jesus, without precedent in the history of scholarship, is part of a scholarly renaissance of interest in the question of what Jesus was like as a figure of history before his death.1

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