Jesus probably didn't write or use the Lord's Prayer and may have uttered only a few of the phrases it contains, a group of biblical and linguistic scholars has concluded at a conference.
They acknowledge the prospect of a fundamentalist uproar but say that doesn't bother them.The prayer shows up in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, which say Jesus taught it to his disciples.
The 25 participants of the Jesus Seminar, meeting in Atlanta over the weekend, agreed with a Pennsylvania minister who researched the issue that Jesus probably didn't ask God to "deliver us from evil," and almost certainly never said "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done."
A paper presented Friday by the Rev. Hal Taussig of St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia concludes that study of the Gospels and early Christian writings show the prayer is not in the words of Jesus.
The participants voted to agree with Taussig that Jesus probably never said the prayer as a prayer and probably never taught it as one.
They concluded that parts of the prayer may have been said by Jesus and that other parts represented his ideas.
Taussig said he expects the conclusions to be accepted by biblical scholars but that it might be harder to convince most churches.
The Jesus Seminar is a 3-year-old forum designed to raise public interest in efforts to separate what Jesus actually said from words that may have been put in his mouth by early Christians.
The participants, from colleges and universities around the country, generally characterize themselves as biblical scholars rather than theologians.
The seminar, which convened here Friday, has drawn fire from "the Bible-thumpers on the right," said Dr. Robert W. Funk, a former theology professor at Emory University and founder of the Jesus Seminar.
He said a main goal of the seminar is to allow qualified biblical scholars to relate their work to issues of public interest "and to get it away from the frauds, the TV evangelists who are mostly quacks."
The scholars have spent years studying the earliest available versions of the Gospels in Greek and Coptic. Some know Aramaic, which scholars say Jesus probably spoke.
By superimposing early language patterns on what is known of how people lived at the time of Jesus and later during the early Christian era, the scholars believe they can make fairly sound decisions on what was said and what was attributed by others.
Funk said the earliest fragment of the Gospels dates from about 125 A.D. and that there are frequent changes in subsequent versions, since each was hand copied.
Versions began to stabilize by around 400 A.D., he said. "There were no big surprises after that."
Funk said the earliest Greek and Coptic versions of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke are inconsistent with modern versions and the life and customs as they were known to be at the time of Jesus.
"For example, the early Christian church borrowed heavily from Jewish practices and customs and attributed some of those to Jesus."
"Of course, we haven't drawn anything like `The Last Temptation of Christ,"' he said, referring to the controversial movie. But he said he expected an angry reaction from segments of the fundamentalist community that believe in a literal interpretation of the New Testament.