The Historical Reliability of the New Testament. By Craig Blomberg. Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, Lexham Press, 2016. 783 pp. Paper, $39.99.
I wrote a September 25, 2018, blog (see here) about a JETS review of this book. At the time I had not yet read it. Now that I have, I want to follow up. What follows is a condensed version of a review that will appear in our Journal.
Since my view of inerrancy is stricter than that of Blomberg’s, I began reading this book, wondering if he would regularly question the historicity of the NT (i.e., would he say that it was historically reliable based on the standards of historiography when written, but it would not be historically reliable based on our current standards?). While his view on the Gospels is not totally to my liking, The Historical Reliability of the New Testament (THRNT) defends the historicity of the Gospels and the entire NT.
On the one hand, I was sorry to see Blomberg assert that the way to discern whether the Gospel writers and other ancient authors “erred in some of the statements they made” was “to have a feel for what would have counted as an error in the context in which the statement first appeared” (p. 26). He went so far as to say that “concluding that the Gospels are biographical is not the same as deciding that everything in them actually happened” (p. 27). My understanding of inerrancy is that the Bible is without error, based on the highest standards of historiography.
On the other hand, I was pleased to see that with many of the discrepancies in the Gospel accounts, Blomberg suggests reasonable harmonizations (e.g., pp. 77, 78, 84, 85-86, 88-90, 95-96, 100-108). Unfortunately, he rules out (or finds highly unlikely) what he calls “classic additive harmonization” (p. 72) and “purely additive harmonization” (pp. 87-88). He is referring to those who would simply add together what different Gospel writers say. For example, some say (myself included) that the Father said both, “You are My beloved Son” and “This is My beloved Son” at Jesus’ baptism. Some think (myself included) that the centurion both sent representatives to Jesus and then later spoke with Him personally. In my opinion “additive harmonization” quite often tells us what actually happened.
I appreciated the fact that Blomberg speaks of “apparent discrepancies” (pp. 50, 56, 71) and “seeming discrepancies” (p. 262).
In some cases, THRNT finds the Gospel writers “recasting” (p. 74), “rewording” (p. 87), and “creating his own transliteration” (p. 75). It would have been nice if in cases where Blomberg could not come up with a harmonization which satisfied him, he would have affirmed the truthfulness of all the Gospel accounts and confessed that he has not yet come up with a harmonization, but that one certainly exists.
Most readers of our blog will not be pleased with Blomberg’s suggestion concerning John 8:30-32—“Even when believing seems to refer to an initial trust, in John it may not eventuate in abiding faith. Thus, classically, in 8:30, John writes that ‘even as [Jesus] spoke, many believed in him.’ But at least some in that same group of individuals are called children of the devil by verse 44, clarifying that it was not full-orbed saving faith John was originally describing” (p. 185).
Nor will they be satisfied with his suggestion that both Paul and James taught that justification is by faith that works. He thinks that “Galatians 5:6 requires faith to be working through love, while Ephesians 2:10 follows immediately on the heels of salvation by grace through faith with the insistence that we are Christ’s workmanship created for good works” (p. 507). Consistently with that view, he takes the tests of life understanding of 1 John (p. 508).
Amazingly, THRNT covers the entire NT (and the Nag Hammadi literature and the NT Apocrypha), not just the Gospels. This book is a major reference work. If one wonders what the critics say about Acts and how we might respond, Blomberg gives excellent discussions. Every book receives attention.
Blomberg’s treatment of textual criticism, though coming from a so-called Critical Text perspective, is fair and balanced, and it upholds the accuracy of the transmission of the text. In fact, he goes so far as to say, “We can say with a high degree of confidence that we have the actual text of the autographs of the New Testament” (p. 623). He clarifies that by adding that where there are textual variants, we have the original reading either in the text or in the footnotes (the apparatus that lists other variants). He says that the NT books were “copied with extraordinary care” (p. 659).
He ends the book with an excellent discussion of “The Problem of Miracles” (pp. 663-715). While I do not agree with his non-cessationist position (p. 677, note 34), I agree with him that God does miracles today.
While I still am to the right of Blomberg in my understanding of inerrancy, and while I disagree with some of what he has written in THRNT, I recommend this book. I think it is a valuable resource, well worth having.