First, Jesus Seminar Fellows had to agree how they would reach their decisions. After extended debate, they adopted voting as the most efficient way of determining the degree of scholarly consensus on a given point.
Voting also makes it possible to report the results to a broad public that may not be interested in the arcane details and extended arguments that went into those votes.
This is in contrast to the usual scholarly procedure of making up one’s mind privately, publishing opinions in some scholarly journal, and then waiting to see whether other specialists agree. The process is glacially slow, painful, and usually indecisive.
However, voting is not without precedent in biblical scholarship. Committees creating a critical text of the Greek New Testament under the auspices of the United Bible Societies vote on whether to print a particular text and what variants to consign to notes. Translation committees, such as those that created the King James Version and the Revised Standard Version, vote in the course of their deliberations on which translation proposal to accept and reject.
Voting does not, of course, determine the truth–it only indicates what the best judgment is of a significant number of scholars sitting around the table. It was deemed entirely consonant with the mission of the Jesus Seminar to decide whether, after careful review of the evidence, a particular saying or parable did or did not fairly represent the voice of the historical Jesus.
How Voting Works
In an example from Phase 1 of the Jesus Seminar, Sayings of Jesus, Jesus Seminar Fellows adopted four categories to indicate authenticity:
- Red: likely authentic
- Pink: somewhat likely
- Gray: somewhat unlikely
- Black: unlikely to be authentic
Each color was assigned a number rating, so that votes could be quantified with a weighted average.