As Craig Blomberg notes, the content of John’s Gospel is distinctive, was likely written after the Synoptic Gospels, and has been used and misused through the centuries.1 Blomberg provides a helpful list of distinctives of John’s Gospel under five headings: 1) selection of material; 2) theological material, particularly the affirmation of Jesus’ divinity; 3) a chronology that appears to contradict the Synoptics’ outline; 4) apparent historical discrepancies; and 5) a style of writing that differs markedly from the Synoptics (pp. 19-20). Blomberg does not provide an exegetical commentary on the text, although he does give his interpretation of key passages in the Gospel of John.
The main question addressed by this book is how John’s Gospel can be harmonized with the Synoptic Gospels. Throughout the book, Blomberg asserts that theology and historicity can coexist and in fact do so in John’ Gospel. A strength of the book is that it repeatedly demonstrates how the Apostle John has not written theology at the expense of historicity. As will be shown in this review, there is much to commend in this volume. It is an honest attempt to harmonize apparent contradictions between the Gospel of John and the Synoptics.
However, this reviewer has some concerns, particularly with Blomberg’s presuppositions and methodological approach. Blomberg views himself as occupying a middle ground between conservative and liberal positions. In this reviewer’s opinion, this is suspect. Blomberg mentions Robert L. Thomas and F. David Farnell’s book The Jesus Crisis2 on the conservative end of the hermeneutical spectrum and criticizes their “fideism that simply presupposes the historicity of the Gospels as a necessary first move in authentic Christian faith” (p. 292). He places on the liberal extreme John D. Crossan and Robert W. Funk, who find very little in the Synoptic Gospels as authentic (p. 292). In Blomberg’s opinion there is a third option, which can limit one’s presuppositions (pp. 292-93).
As this review will demonstrate, Blomberg’s methodology, borrowed from the liberal end of the hermeneutical continuum, leads him to conclusions that he may consider to be conservative, but are in fact liberal, and contain the seeds of skepticism. This will eventually lead to the abandonment of inerrancy in any meaningful form.
One’s true position on the hermeneutical spectrum is often revealed by the people and positions to which one appeals and draws support. While truth can be articulated by the unsaved, it is wise to look at the conclusions of unregenerate Biblical exegetes with at least a jaundiced eye. The question of Raymond E. Brown’s eternal destiny aside, the late Roman Catholic theologian and prolific writer is frequently quoted in this volume. As Blomberg himself observes:
It is unclear whether Brown’s subsequent work always retained this balance [between historical preoccupations and theological reflections], however, as theology [it] at times seemed to be stressed at the expense of history.3
Blomberg also draws support from redaction criticism.
One of the fundamental tenets of this volume is that the Synoptic Gospels and John’s Gospel must be judged “according to the historiographical standards of the first century, …which are of course the only standards by which we may fairly judge them” (pp. 52, 93). No doubt Blomberg does not intend to have his statement taken literally because there are standards that supersede those of historiography, such as truth versus error, the law of non-contradiction, etc., regardless of historical provenance. The slippery slope of historiographical standards, which are based upon probability, can never arrive at certainty.
On a positive note, Blomberg has an excellent section on the authorship of the Gospel of John, concluding that John the son of Zebedee was its author. For internal support, Blomberg affirms the classic work of B. F. Westcott. The identity of the “beloved disciple” is the key to identifying the author (p. 28).
In his introduction, Blomberg gives what he believes to be criteria for authenticity and says that, “the ‘third quest of the historical Jesus’ has offered extremely important refinements of the classic criteria of authenticity” (p. 63). He explains that there is a tension between the dissimilarity criterion (material is authentic when it differs from both conventional first-century Judaism and post-Easter Christianity) and the criterion of the Palestinian environment (material must cohere with what is conceivable in an early first-century Palestinian Jewish context) (p. 63). Blomberg writes approvingly of N. T. Wright, who advocates “double similarity and dissimilarity criteria” in which “a combination of similarities and dissimilarities from both Judaism and Christianity in any given passage will probably support authenticity” (pp. 63-64). Blomberg also agrees with Gerd Theissen who calls for the criterion of “historical plausibility” (p. 64).
Theissen’s authenticity criteria include four parts. A text must be plausible in its historical context. It must demonstrate some influence in early Christianity. It must disclose Jesus’ individuality within His original context, and it must go against the grain of later Christian theologizing (p. 64). Blomberg concludes that both Theissen and Wright have independently formulated equivalent criteria (p. 64).
Blomberg adds that multiple attestations provide an important criterion of authenticity. This can include similar teachings, events, themes, or forms (p. 64). However, material singly attested can be authentic based upon similarity/dissimilarity criteria (p. 64). He acknowledges that there is much subjectivity in these criteria and also calls for restraint on the recent wholesale acceptance of rabbinic parallels, of which much is of a later provenance than the first century to which it is being applied (pp. 64-65).
II. BLOMBERG’S COMMENTARY
A. Prologue and John the Baptist
Perhaps one of the most notable distinctives of John’s Gospel is the high Christology of the prologue. Following Larry Hurtado and Alan Segal, Blomberg convincingly shows that in first century Judaism there was diversity within its monotheism. The two thrones in Dan 7:9 led to the idea of angels and humans closely resembling deity. Later Judaism reversed this trend.4 In addition, the importance of the Dead Sea Scrolls with their synchronic attestation of motifs that were previously thought to be of Gnostic origin throws new light on the viability of an earlier date for the dualism found in John’s Gospel.
Blomberg is to be commended for his appeal to harmonization of the accounts of John the Baptist found in the Synoptics and John’s Gospel, particularly his view that the Baptist’s teaching was likely repeated on different occasions (p. 77). In relation to the controversy over the location of John the Baptist’s ministry, Blomberg says that claims that John is mistaken are unjustified. We should accept the text as authentic even if we cannot reconcile seeming contradictions (p. 77).
Curiously, the dissimilarity criterion which Blomberg employs has him proposing the possibility, based upon John 1:30 (p. 79), that Jesus was at one time a disciple of John the Baptist. Blomberg says this idea was not likely to have been invented by early Christianity. John himself wanted to magnify Jesus. One wonders whether such an exegetical implication would have even been thought of had not the dissimilarity criterion given it some semblance of credibility.
Blomberg reveals the basis for his own affirmation of the authenticity of John the Baptist’s ministry with the following:
John’s ministry of baptism admirably satisfies the double similarity and dissimilarity criterion. One can trace an unbroken thread of immersion, from Jewish ritual lustrations, through John’s and Jesus’ baptisms, to the practice of the early church…But over against his predecessors, John gave his ministry a unique eschatological meaning, yet stopping short of claiming the exalted role that some would give him later. (p. 80)
B. The Cleansing of the Temple
Arguably, ground zero in the battle over the historicity of the Gospel of John is the cleansing of the temple. In the Synoptic Gospels, it occurs once, during the last week of Jesus’ life. In John’s account, it occurs twice, once at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and once near the end. Blomberg presents two alternatives: 1) “Has John thematically relocated this passage as a kind of headline to the meaning of Jesus’ ministry and to the mixed response Christ would receive (so most commentators today)?”; 2) “Or did Jesus in fact clear the temple twice, once toward the beginning and once near the end of his public ministry (so most commentators throughout church history)?” (p. 88). Blomberg says support for the former position includes that this is the first pericope in John that is not introduced with a time reference that requires that it occurred soon after the previous pericope (p. 88).
Additionally, J.A.T. Robinson cites Josephus concerning Herod’s building of the temple and argues that John 2:20 occurred in AD 28. This was two years prior to the most probable date of Jesus’ crucifixion (p. 89).5 Robinson argues for one cleansing. Raymond Brown suggests the same by saying that Jesus gave a prophetic warning against the temple early in His ministry and actually cleansed it at the end of His life. John has conflated these two things (p. 89).6 Other commentators, cited by Blomberg, reverse the order, placing the event at the beginning, and the reference to it at the end of Jesus’ ministry (pp. 89-90).
However, Blomberg notes that the two accounts “are entirely different,” and “do not contradict each other at any point and can be combined to form a plausible, harmonious whole.” He concludes that it is odd that some do not see the possibility of two separate cleansings (p. 90). The objection that the authorities would have reacted strongly to a temple cleansing are countered with contextually mitigating factors, such as the first cleansing being “a protest merely against corrupt trade,” as well as support by the crowds (pp. 90-91). Blomberg’s view is that without new information, the debate among the various approaches to this passage will not be settled. However, the account in John 2:20 has numerous allusions to Hebrew prophets and is a “plausible” and “authentic” event in the life of Jesus (p. 91).
It needs to be stated that for Blomberg, the discovery of such information could persuade him to adopt a view incompatible with inerrancy. The best he can do now is proclaim a “plausible verdict.” Those who adopt this position are one small step away from discarding inerrancy. It only takes one instance of a supposed error in the text to disprove inerrancy.
C. John 2:23-25
Although Blomberg’s volume is not a commentary, he nevertheless briefly comments on John 2:23-25. He uses his conclusions in support of other passages throughout the Gospel of John. He states, “but as will become clearer as John’s narrative unfolds, not all who apparently believe continue in that faith, and Jesus recognizes that fact already at this stage in his ministry” (p. 91).7 This reviewer finds no exegetical reason for reaching Blomberg’s theological conclusion, and particularly this early in the Gospel. Notably, John 1:12 does not qualify the belief which gives one the “right” to become a child of God, and the belief in John 2:23 meets the stated requirement. Reading in future contexts, which do not necessarily reach that conclusion, is methodologically suspect. Understandably, within the confines of the present volume, Blomberg cannot go into this passage in depth, however, because of his continued reliance on it, it would have been good for him to give evidence in support of his conclusion.
D. John 3
The use of the Greek adverb anōthen (“from above” or “again”) in John’s account of Nicodemus brings up the issue of the translation of Jesus’ words from Aramaic to Greek, and “whether one Aramaic expression could generate both senses” (p. 93). Blomberg also mentions the issue of Semitic double meaning. The Hebrew ruah can mean either “wind” or “spirit” (p. 93). The question of Semitisms, in this reviewer’s opinion, has frequently not taken into account (or sufficiently accounted for) the fact that Jesus, as well as those who wrote the Gospel accounts, were quite likely bilingual (or even trilingual) speakers who easily and naturally navigated seamlessly between languages and may have engaged in code switching.
Blomberg’s negative portrayal of Nicodemus in John 3 would not necessarily be shared by all contemporary readers. Blomberg uses his negative assessment in support of authenticity. He says that Nicodemus is seen in a more positive light later in the Gospel, and one would expect that if a later writer wrote John 3, he would have produced a less negative picture of him in that encounter with the Lord. This would have been more in line with “Christian truth” (p. 93).8 Blomberg feels that in light of more positive references to Nicodemus later in John, a later writer would have painted a less negative portrait of the Pharisee in John 3 and would have presented a clearer witness to Christian truth. It appears, unfortunately, that even if a scholar is a conservative, when using the tools of the redaction critical mindset, contrary evidence is seen even where it might not exist. This is due to the scholar having bought into, to some degree, a redaction critical methodology.
The Apostle John’s portrayal of Nicodemus can be read naturally, with the latter understood to be an honest inquirer, albeit ignorant of what is being talked about, who holds no animus toward Jesus. Blomberg’s assessment of Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus in John 3 is that:
…the overall description of this encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus thus seems authentic. The latter is portrayed in a credible Jewish role and fits what we know about the Gurion family in Jerusalem, but he is not yet turned into a full-fledged believer, as in later Christian apocryphal tradition (p. 95).
It is difficult for this reviewer to avoid the impression that Blomberg has put himself above and in judgment of the text, rather than vice versa.
In the discussion of Jesus and John the Baptist in John 3, Blomberg says that John 3:27 is the first of several instances in the Gospel of John in which the reader finds a theology of predestination (p. 97). The text reads, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven.” This is hardly an unambiguous reference to predestination.
Blomberg does explain how the term “heaven” was used at Qumran “as a euphemism for ‘God,’” which “clearly grounds John’s saying in a Jewish milieu” (p. 97). The comment is helpful in filling in the first century background and represents corroborative lexical evidence. But this evidence, or the lack of it, should not be viewed in any way as determinative in matters of authenticity.
A feature that comes up repeatedly in the Gospel of John is John’s editorial comments and where they begin and end. Related to this idea is where and when Johannine verbiage is employed. This is not always easy to ascertain. Blomberg makes a legitimate point when he observes that in certain instances, “we can see what John’s theology stresses and what his writing looks like when he is not constrained by reporting historical facts or the teachings of John and Jesus” (p. 97).
E. John 4
In his discussion of the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, Blomberg makes an interesting observation when he writes that even if one rejects the account as a whole, v 22 should be accepted as authentic. The reason for this conclusion is that that particular verse does not follow John’s tendency to be critical of the official Judaism of his day (p. 101). John 4:22 reads, “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.”
Blomberg does not give the reader his own position on whether the account of the woman at the well should be rejected, but one is left to wonder if he thinks it is a legitimate position for an exegete to hold. Certainly if one held to parts of the text as being less than “authentic,” one would not be in the inerrantist camp. This reviewer cannot see how using redaction critical methodology will not sooner, rather than later, result in an errantist view of Scripture.
In Blomberg’s comments on the Samaritan woman’s verbal interaction with the men of Sychar, he notes that John uses the negative Greek particle (John 4:29) in the woman’s question. This suggests she is still skeptical about whether Jesus is the Messiah or not (p. 102). However, the use of the Greek interrogative particle indicates that she was expecting a negative reply. Employing the redaction critical criterion of dissimilarity, Blomberg goes on to say that a later Christian writer would not have included this hesitancy on the part of the woman (p. 102). Completely ignored, perhaps because of Blomberg’s mission to find redaction critical “authenticating” evidence, is the likely possibility that the woman was simply employing discretion and attempting to arouse curiosity in the men so that they would want to come and see this fascinating individual for themselves.
The words of the people of Sychar, when referring to Jesus, include the title, “the Savior of the world.” Blomberg gives two reasons why this title in John 4 (p. 104) is probably authentic. First, the woman was an apostle to the men of Sychar, which is a detail that would not have been invented in such a “patriarchal world.” The second reason is the people of Sychar may have deliberately chosen this title for Jesus because they were, like the Jews themselves, opposed to the occupation of their country by the Romans. This showed their preference for Jesus over Caesar (p. 104). The former reason appears to be one of “dissimilarity” and the latter that of “similarity.”
One wonders how many “probably authentic” examples Blomberg’s system can handle without being an errantist position. Blomberg concludes his discussion of the Samaritan woman and the villagers with the following comment:
…we must not overestimate the amount of belief implied in this story… ‘Many’ of a probable population of a few hundred need not have implied more than a couple of dozen adults. And John will later describe ‘believers’ who do not persevere in their commitment (esp. in ch. 8), so we really have no way of telling how many of these followers proved faithful (p. 104).
The reader sees here another example of a theological conclusion unsupported by the text. It is one that, as will be seen, is not supported by the evidence in Chap. 8, either. John 1:12 does not speak of the “amount of belief” required to become one of God’s children. Faith is the only requirement.
Blomberg’s discussion of the healing of the official’s son (John 4:43-54) is well taken. Commentators debate whether this healing is the same as that found in Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10. Blomberg points out that the differences in John’s account and the accounts in Matthew and Luke are striking. Only the words “Capernaum,” “asked,” and “about to” utilize the same roots, while “die” appears in both accounts via synonyms (p. 105). That notwithstanding, Blomberg “tentatively favors” that all of these are accounts of the same event (p. 107). He believes that there are no “necessary contradictions” in the different accounts (p. 107). According to Blomberg, this should leave us with confidence that in the majority of the cases where there are no synoptic parallels in John that John is not “freely inventing” the accounts that do not reflect the actual words and deeds of Jesus (p. 107). However, one is left to wonder what degree of confidence this might be if Blomberg himself only comes to a “tentative” conclusion.
F. John 5
As noted by Blomberg, certain details of the healing of the man at the pool of Bethesda were corroborated by archaeology in the 1890’s, such as the reference in John 5:2 (p. 109) to five porticoes. Furthermore, the Copper Scroll at Qumran supports the name of the site (p. 109).
In the aftermath of this healing, the author of the Gospel, presumably the Apostle John, gives the editorial comment that Jesus was “calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.” Blomberg says that at first glance this verse is the part of the text that least fits into a first century Jewish setting (p. 111). But Blomberg reassures the reader that, upon closer inspection, this is not the case. He agrees with J. C. O’Neill who says that Jesus is not charged here with being equal to God in every respect, but with claiming to be equal to God in only one way. Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah, and this was a prerogative that God the Father had reserved for Himself (p. 111).9
According to O’Neill, no human being could claim to be the Messiah, since this was something only the Father could do. Jesus was being charged with making Himself equal to God in this very limited sense (p.111).10
It appears, according to Blomberg and O’Neill, that in John 5:18, Jesus was not being charged with making an ontological claim of equality with God. Blomberg garners additional support from Darrell Bock. Bock says the problem is not only that Jesus was bold enough to claim to be the Messiah, but also that this claim was seen to be false and risky (pp. 111-12).11 Blomberg concludes by saying the following:
But this is still a kind of equality with God that stops well short of later Christian reflection about the second person of the Trinity, which did clearly transcend the boundaries of Jewish monotheism. The Fourth Evangelist, of course, sees a fuller sense of divine Sonship in Jesus as he writes at the end of the first century. But the account as it stands is also fully intelligible within Jesus’ world some sixty years earlier (p. 112).
This appears to be an appeal to a form of sensus plenior. However, nowhere in the text does the title “Messiah” appear in John’s description of the event. It seems that because an ontological claim does not fit with Blomberg’s (as well as O’Neill’s and Bock’s) view of the early first-century milieu, an explanation, no matter how implausible, must be entertained.
G. John 6
The discussion of John 6:28ff again shows Blomberg’s affinity for the similarity/dissimilarity criteria. He states that, “because Jesus has mentioned ‘work,’ this Jewish audience understandably raises the question of what kind of works God requires” (p. 123). Blomberg observes that the Qumran Manual of Discipline contains a close parallel to the idea of the works of God (1 QS 4:4). However, Jesus defines this work in terms of believing in the one the Father has sent (p. 123). The Biblical text receives Blomberg’s seal of authenticity because it clearly passes the double similarity and dissimilarity test (p. 123). It passes this test because it is both “grounded in Judaism’s fascination with works” and also gives it an unexpected redefinition. In addition, it agrees with the emphasis on belief that was promoted by later Christianity, while at the same time referring to this faith as a good work (p. 123).
One wonders how Jesus could redefine faith as a work and reconcile that with the “later Christian emphasis on belief.” How does this reconcile with salvation being by faith alone and not by works (Eph 2:8)?
The seven “I am” sayings of Jesus are a problem for the “similarity” criteria. However, Blomberg answers that we should not assume that they are an invention by John. All these sayings that contain a predicate depend on metaphor. They would not have sounded as “blunt” as Christians today interpret them. They are not direct “affirmations of Jesus’ Deity.” In addition, the Synoptics have parallels to the more explicit “I am” statements but do not have the predicates (p. 124). If the text uses a metaphor, the criterion for similarity appears to be broadly expanded, and subjectivity in its application increases as well. Blomberg concludes that John is responsible for the specific “I am” form of these sayings, but the concepts can be found in Judaism and are not foreign to Jesus (p. 124). Although the text is recording Jesus’ words, that does not pose a problem for Blomberg. It appears that the criterion of authenticity is in the eye of the one doing the authenticating.
Perhaps one of the most significant issues related to Blomberg’s book is his acceptance of what he has labeled proem midrash (p. 127). Taking John 6:31-58 as his example, Blomberg describes this “Jewish rhetorical and literary form” as:
A text of Scripture is introduced for discussion (v. 31), which is then exegeted and paraphrased (vv. 32-40). Certain considerations of this discussion lead to a second, related Scripture (vv. 41-44), which is then expounded (vv. 45-47). Finally, attention returns to the first passage, with further exposition (vv. 48-58).
Blomberg concludes that the theme of Jesus as the bread from heaven unifies this material. There is no need to seek out the various stages of tradition or redaction, even if the material of vv 51-58 is “troublesome.” Shorter Synoptic parables provide parallels, as do various speeches in Acts. It is certainly possible that the historical Jesus could have said something “substantially similar” to what Jesus is reported to have said in John 6 (p. 127).
In fact, Blomberg concludes this discussion on a positive note by saying that “there are no reasons to deny the substance of the remarks attributed to Christ in John 6 to the historical Jesus.” However, this “midrash” hermeneutic would seem to present a problem for adherents of verbal plenary inspiration, as well as inerrancy.
In the early 1980’s, the “midrash” hermeneutic came to the attention of the Evangelical community with Robert H. Gundry’s commentary on Matthew.12 Gundry was essentially driven out of the Evangelical Theological Society largely due to that publication. While this reviewer does not believe that Blomberg’s book under present consideration has used “midrash” in the same way that Gundry does, there is the concern that adopting a “midrash” hermeneutic does open the door to significant problems, particularly when coupled with the acceptance of the redaction critical methodology of similarity/dissimilarity and its hermeneutical brethren.
Blomberg labels John 6:60-70 as “a turning point in Jesus’ ministry,” detailing the defection of many of His followers. This rejection is not likely to have been invented since it was “sufficiently disrespectful” (p. 128). Evidently, using the redaction critical criterion of dissimilarity, the likelihood of authenticity increases in direct proportion to the amount of disrespect involved.
Blomberg says that this account of defection is the first time the reader becomes aware that not all apparent followers of Jesus are genuine (p. 128). Jesus says nothing about whether these individuals were “genuine,” but instead, by using the verb “believe” twice in one verse (John 6:64), explicitly states the reason for the defection. They did not believe in Him.
In spite of the author of the Gospel having the purpose of providing signs so that men might believe in Jesus (John 20:30-31), Blomberg seems to hold that belief in Jesus based on signs is salvifically deficient. In a footnote related to the unbelief of Jesus’ physical half-brothers, he cites F. F. Bruce who maintains that faith based upon outward signs was inadequate if not accompanied by an “appreciation of the inward truth” the signs were intended to demonstrate. This kind of faith is one that cannot be strengthened by more wonders (p. 131).13 However, Jesus said they lacked faith. He did not say they had a deficient faith.
H. John 7
In the textual critical debate over “not” or “not yet” in John 7:8, Blomberg favors “not.” Jesus says He will not go up to the feast in Jerusalem. Blomberg says that “not” is the more difficult textual variant and therefore is more plausible (p. 132).14
The UBS text agrees with Blomberg. However, Metzger, in his textual commentary, only gives it a “C” rating, acknowledging that two of the earliest papyri, P66 and P75 have “not yet.”15 Blomberg’s solution to the apparent contradiction between Jesus saying in John 7:8 that He will not go up and then later going up anyway is to say that Jesus states He is not going up, in the present tense, with everybody else. Jesus knows that He will go up at a different time (p. 132). This argument is not convincing. The simple answer is that the variant “not yet” is the viable one.
Blomberg continues his disparagement of the faith of certain people in John’s Gospel. John 7:31 says that “many of the people believed in Him.” Blomberg maintains that this was faith on a “superficial level.” He says the authenticity of this statement is supported because it runs counter to John’s emphasis on the growing unbelief and opposition of the Jewish authorities (pp. 135-36). In spite of the text saying nothing to question the belief of these people, Blomberg goes on to say “that John elsewhere stresses the inadequacy of a merely signs-based faith (2:23-25; 3:1-3; 4:48; etc.)” and we should not assume the faith here is genuine (p. 136). The conclusion of Blomberg in reference to these verses is questionable.
The intervention by Nicodemus in John 7:48-51 is also given a negative spin by Blomberg. In the context, the religious leaders say that none of the Pharisees had believed in Jesus. It is surprising then if Nicodemus says something positive about Him. Blomberg concludes that nothing in the actions of Nicodemus suggest he is a true disciple. He is only an “honest judge” (p. 139).
Granted, the text does not indicate that Nicodemus had believed. However, it could be argued that he was taking an enormous risk by defending Jesus in a hostile environment. Blomberg does concede that there is a “superficial faith” among some in the crowds and even among some of the religious authorities. This faith even made it impossible for the authorities to arrest Jesus (pp. 139-40).
Blomberg himself argues that John’s “redactional concern,” such as we find here with Nicodemus’ support of Jesus, usually does not violate historicity (p. 140). However, we must face the fact that others using his methodology may well reach the conclusion that such redactional material is inauthentic.
I. John 8
In John 8, Blomberg finds more evidence for his view that there is a belief that does not save. In John 8:31, he says that Jesus focuses His attention on those Jews who had just “believed” in Him (v 30). However, by the end of the passage, these same “believers” want to kill Him. Blomberg concludes that John frequently speaks of a faith that is “superficial” and that does not mature into genuine faith (pp. 144-45). It is difficult to find in John’s Gospel any belief that Blomberg does not find suspect.
A better exegetical route in John 8 is to take vv 31 and 32 as a parenthesis, a frequent Johannine feature of employing editorial asides, in which he is talking about and to those who had just believed in v 30. Then, from v 33 on, he is speaking of the response of the rest of the crowd. Failure to do so sets up a contradiction: in vv 30 and 31, individuals are said to have believed (aorist indicative in the former and perfect participle in the latter), and then in vv 45 and 46, Jesus says that they do not believe Him. The perfect participle in v 31 indicates that those mentioned had believed in the past. The perfect tense argues against an instant flip-flop of belief by the antagonistic individuals.
J. John 9
The pericope in John 9 of the healing of the man who had been born blind is described by Blomberg as “one of the most historically suspect statements in the entire Gospel” (p. 153). He summarizes Louis Martyn’s argument against the historicity of the mention of excommunication from the synagogue. Martyn’s argument is that the excommunication of John 9 is an anachronism, since such expulsion from the synagogue did not occur before AD 85 (pp. 153-54).16
Following a lengthy interaction of pros and cons for the historicity of this passage, Blomberg concludes that, “the double similarity and dissimilarity criterion again appears apropos.” He believes that the entire chapter makes sense in an early first-century Palestinian Jewish framework. It also promotes belief in Jesus. This satisfies the criterion of similarity. Dissimilarity is also present because what Jesus says and does are scandalous (p. 157). In the final analysis, Blomberg concludes that the essence of the chapter reflects the words and actions of the historical Jesus.
K. John 11
One wonders what will happen to Blomberg’s “essence of the chapter” if and when redaction of critical evidence for doubting the historicity of the chapter emerges.
In the account of the resurrection of Lazarus (John 11), Blomberg rightly concludes that “if one comes to these texts already convinced that resurrections are under no circumstances possible, no amount of evidence will persuade one of historicity” (p. 167). The same would apply to all miracles.
Blomberg continues his skepticism about the belief of certain individuals. In John 11:15, Jesus says that Lazarus was allowed to die so that the disciples might believe. Blomberg maintains that this shows that initial faith is not always adequate (p. 167).
Regarding the historicity of this event, Blomberg points out that John does not always paint a negative picture of the Jews. But since negative references outweigh the positive, we should conclude that the positive ones are more likely to be historical (p. 169). If the positive passages are more likely to be historical, one wonders what degree of historicity can be attached to the negative ones. In either case, the best verdict is that something is only more likely to be historical.
As far as Jesus’ prayer goes, Blomberg says that it seems probable that Jesus did pray something like what these two verses (John 11:41-42) record. Blomberg’s assessment of this passage, that includes arguably the greatest of Jesus’ miracles, excluding His own resurrection, is interesting. He says that a “substantial historical core” appears to be behind the narrative. It should be considered historical in the absence of “convincing evidences to the contrary” (pp. 171-72).
L. John 14–17
When Jesus speaks of the coming of the Paraclete, Blomberg says that John is not inventing “pious, edifying fiction.” Instead, John is relaying the significance of what Jesus actually said (p. 203). Although this reviewer questions the methodology employed for reaching his conclusion, Blomberg is right to say that in John 14:28 the subordination of Jesus to the Father is clear. This would not have been written by a community that wanted to exalt Jesus as being fully equal to the Father (p. 204). Blomberg is also to be applauded for not shying away from attempting to reconcile apparent contradictions. He wonders if many scholars reject certain options simply because they are seen as an attempt at “harmonizing” (pp. 204-205).
In his discussion of Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17, Blomberg finds parallels for John’s structure in the Lord’s Prayer of the Synoptics. That assumes that John had access to the latter, which is quite probable. However, one might object to Blomberg’s characterization of John’s composition. Blomberg says it could be an example of “midrashic” expansion of the original prayer of Jesus. At the same time, however, it could be seen as authentic under the criteria of multiple attestation and coherence (p. 219). Once again, one sees the employment of the canons of redaction criticism.
M. John’s Final Chapters
Blomberg discusses Peter’s denials. He claims that minor discrepancies among the Gospels have risen to the forefront after Harold Lindsell’s attempt at harmonization (p. 234).17 Blomberg criticizes Lindsell’s attempt because it brings into disrepute all attempts at harmonization. Lindsell said that Peter denied the Lord six times, but in fact each Gospel says Peter denied Him three times (p. 234).
Interestingly, Blomberg suggests that more than three accusers may have been involved in Peter’s denials. There may have been a crowd of people around the fire, with many of them accusing Peter. More than three people could have “accosted” him (p. 234). This solution says that more than three people approached or questioned Peter, although he only gave three responses or denials. Regarding his solution, Blomberg writes that once this view is accepted there is nothing in the Gospels that can be seen as a contradiction. This is especially the case when we take into consideration the “historiographical standards” of the first-century world. In that world, ancient writers had freedom to paraphrase a speaker’s words (p. 234).
However, the four accounts record the location of the denials in two different locations, something that Blomberg does not address. Perhaps Lindsell is right that there were more than three denials and Jesus’ prediction about three denials was to convey that there would be sufficient, indisputable evidence (that of two or three witnesses) to confirm that Peter had indeed denied Him. Jesus may not have intended to say that there would be just three and no more. Whatever the case may be, varying historiographical standards cannot trump the law of non-contradiction.
Blomberg gives an excellent example of the harmonization of the Synoptic and Johannine chronology of the Passion Week. He points out that the apparent contradiction is due to the fact that the “Passover” could refer to the week-long festival. In addition, the “Day of Preparation” could mean Friday, which would be the day before the Sabbath (p. 247).
In his discussion of the resurrection, Blomberg asserts that his intent in this book is not to prove the authenticity of miracles. As he notes:
…throughout the book, our task is the narrower one of seeing if the text of John coheres with an early first-century Palestinian Jewish setting and if it meshes with or contradicts the synoptic narratives (pp. 258-59).
It may be concluded that Blomberg has, to a large extent, succeeded in what he set out to accomplish. However, the limitations of Blomberg’s methodology is primarily what troubles this reviewer.
Blomberg advocates for what he calls the via media, which maintains that historical research, especially when evaluating ancient documents, cannot “adjudicate” any document in its entirety (p. 293). He admits that his investigation does not claim to demonstrate that all of the Gospel of John would have been considered accurate by the conventions of the first century (p. 293). Furthermore, Blomberg says that other material could be unhistorical, but he does not feel that any arguments presented tip the scales in that direction (p. 293). Unfortunately, other scholars, using the same redaction critical criteria as Blomberg employs have come to radically different conclusions. Blomberg rightly concludes that other considerations come into play if anybody wants to make a theological statement regarding the inspiration or inerrancy of the Scriptures (p. 293).
Blomberg refers to Kierkegaard’s famous “leap of faith.” He says that such a leap cannot be avoided and that it moves in the same direction to which the historical evidence points (p. 293). The problem, as has been shown in this review, is that all of Blomberg’s conclusions are couched together with the caveat of their likelihood, not their certainty. Inerrancy is not just a theological statement, but a theological/historical statement about the text. While Scripture is both theological and historical, the two are not to be regarded as separate but equal. Only fideism can make up for man’s limited knowledge and provide the methodological control that the overall genre and majesty of Scripture deserve.
1 Craig L. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel: Issues & Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2001), 17.
2 Robert L. Thomas and F. David Farnell, The Jesus Crisis: The Inroads of Historical Criticism into Evangelical Scholarship (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1998).
3 Blomberg, 280, n. 415.
4 Ibid., 73. Alan F. Segal, Two Powers in Heaven (Leiden: Brill, 1977), and Larry W. Hurtado, One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1988).
5 Blomberg cites Josephus, Ant. 15.380.
6 Raymond Brown, The Gospel According to John (Garden City, NJ: Doubleday, 1966), 118-20.
7 Using a similar exegesis of skepticism, Robert H. Gundry, Peter: False Disciple and Apostate According to the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2015), concludes that Peter was eternally lost.
8 Later on, in a footnote, Blomberg contrasts the Samaritan woman at the well with Nicodemus, writing that “unlike Nicodemus, the woman holds her own as an equal conversation partner with Jesus, one of numerous ways in which the two characters contrast with each other, with the portrait of Nicodemus proving surprisingly negative and the picture of the woman appearing surprisingly positive,” 99, n. 116.
9 J.C. O’Neill, “Making Himself Equal with God (John 5:17-18): The Alleged Challenge to Jewish Monotheism in the Fourth Gospel,” Irish Biblical Studies 17 (1995): 50-61.
11 Darrell L. Bock, Blasphemy and Exaltation in Judaism and the Final Examination of Jesus: A Philological-Historical Study of the Key Jewish Themes Impacting Mark (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1998), 25.
12 Robert H. Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His Literary and Theological Art (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982).
13 F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983), 171.
14 Chrys C. Caragounis, “Jesus, His Brothers and the Journey to the Feast (John 7:8-10),” Svensk Exegetisk Arsbok, 63, (1998): 177-87.
15 Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (New York: United Bible Societies, 1975), 216.
16 Louis J. Martyn, History and Theology of the Fourth Gospel (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1979).
17 Harold Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976), 174-76.