The Historical Reliability of the New Testament. By Craig Blomberg. Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, Lexham Press, 2016. 783 pp. Paper, $39.99.
Since my view of inerrancy is stricter than that of Blomberg, 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.
It is a mammoth book. However, despite its length, it really is not that hard of a read. For someone with a Th.B. or higher, I think THRNT will make perfect sense and will be relatively easy to follow. (For the layman, this book may be heavy sledding, but it should still be readable.)
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, “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.
While he seems to think it most likely that the cleansing of the temple in John 2 is “a topically or thematically relocated version of the incident” (p. 194), I was pleasantly surprised that Blomberg says that it is possible that the cleansing of the temple did occur twice, with the incident in John 2 occurring “in a comparatively small corner of the temple” (p. 195).
I appreciated the fact that Blomberg spoke 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.
JOTGES readers 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 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). Consistent with that view, he takes the tests of life understanding of 1 John (p. 508).
Amazingly, THRNT covers the entire NT, not just the Gospels. This book is a major reference work. If one wonders what the critics say about Acts, for example, and how we might respond, Blomberg gives excellent discussions. Every book receives attention.
(Blomberg also covers the Nag Hammadi literature and the New Testament Apocrypha [pp. 562-90].)
It was encouraging to see Blomberg say that “responsible scholarship does not find outside the New Testament enough reliable historical material to shed any substantially different light on the Jesus of history and his first followers” (p. 604).
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).
Blomberg ends the book with an excellent discussion of “The Problem of Miracles” (pp. 663-715). He does a great job of showing that if God exists, then the miraculous is no problem (p. 665). He gives “four classic arguments for his existence” (pp. 665-68). I especially liked his refutations of Hume’s arguments (pp. 669-72). While I do not agree with his non-cessationist position (p. 677, note 34), I agree with him that God does miracles today. Here is a great comment, “There are no compelling scientific, philosophical, or ‘comparative religions’ reasons for approaching the New Testament miracles skeptically” (p. 685).
While I 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.
Robert N. Wilkin
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society