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Jesus Didn’t Promise Second Coming, Scholars Say

March 7, 1989

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ A group of biblical scholars agreed that Jesus Christ never promised to return and usher in a new age and would have been ″appalled″ about becoming a cult figure in a new religion, the group’s founder said Monday.

About 100 scholars, theologians and historians discussed the teachings of the historical Jesus in a three-day seminar that ended Sunday. They agreed, with some dissensions, that Jesus did not promise a Second Coming in which he would bring a new age.

Gospel writers and later followers of Jesus were the ones who predicted a second coming of Jesus, most scholars participating in the Jesus Seminar said. The seminar was held in Sonoma in the wine country about 40 miles north of San Francisco.

Robert Funk, 50, a New Testament expert and the seminar founder, said most of its members believe that Jesus was a wandering sage and did not think he was divine, ″although he felt very close to God.″

Funk said the seminar’s stand does not contradict the faith in God expressed in the Apostles Creed but is at odds with many traditional Christian beliefs.

A fundamentalist pastor who attended the meeting called the seminar’s stance ″heretical.″

″They’re robbing the church of its blessed hope,″ said the Rev. Marion H. Reynolds of Los Osos. He said the impact of the group’s statements can’t be dismissed because ″our society tends to place scholars on a very high level.″

In one vote of 30 scholars, 26 said they strongly disagreed that Jesus expected to return and usher in a new age. The scholars almost unanimously agreed, though, that Jesus spoke the words attributed to him in which he said the kingdom of God already was present in his day.

The group also voted overwhelmingly that the language used to describe the future kingdom of God in the New Testament is mythic and symbolic, and recommended that people should not believe in or look forward to the Second Coming and new age.

Although there was no vote taken on the issue of whether Jesus intended to start a new religion and be its central figure, the subject is key to the seminar’s debates and has come up in virtually all of its nine meetings over the past four years.

″The overwhelming answer (among the seminar’s scholars) is Jesus had no intention of starting a new religion,″ said Funk. ″Most of the fellows think Jesus led some kind of reform movement in Judaism. I’m quite certain he had no idea that a new religion would transpire or that he would become a cult figure in it. ... He would have been appalled by it.″

He said the scholars are almost unanimous that Jesus ″didn’t think of himself as divine.″

The seminar’s findings reflect what is being taught in most major universities and seminaries, said the Rev. Edward F. Beutner, a Jesuit and campus minister at Santa Clara University and a seminar member.

″These are not maverick scholars,″ Beutner said. ″They take a very careful approach to how sayings of Jesus were transmitted and to the evolution of the Bible texts.″

The Jesus Seminar is sponsored by the Westar Institute in Sonoma, a private, secular, research group that explores topics in the humanitites.

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