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Historical Reliability of the Gospels [Paperback]

Craig L. Blomberg
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

10 Nov 2007
Many people continue to believe that only a small percentage of the New Testament accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth reflect what he really said and did. The reasons for scepticism may vary over the years, but some arguments have proved remarkably persistent - for example, the Gospels were not written by people in a position to know what Jesus was like, primitive cultures believed in miracles that we know are impossible, theological interest precludes historical accuracy, non-canonical texts disprove the stories in the Gospels, and so on.

Such claims are in fact weakly supported, or have actually been disproved. However, various issues contribute to the complexity of the question of the Gospels' trustworthiness, and disagreements remain. Furthermore, confusion has been compounded by fiction promoted in popular culture, or by eccentric, unrepresentative scholarship.

Since its first appearance in 1987, Craig Blomberg's response to scepticism in The Historical Reliability of the Gospels has been widely appreciated. Fully revised and updated, this new edition takes account of the vast amount of relevant scholarship that has appeared over the last two decades.

Ranging over a wide field - differences between parallel accounts of the same event, the striking contrast between John and the Synoptic Gospels, the theological interests of the evangelists, the miracles of Jesus, the testimony of extrabiblical sources, and critical assessment of historical methods - Professor Blomberg presents a thorough, informed engagement with the main issues in the ongoing debates. Deliberately refusing to appeal to the inspiration of the Bible or to church tradition, he convincingly demonstrates the overall historical reliability of the Gospels.

Many people continue to believe that only a small percentage of the New Testament accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth reflect what he really said and did. The reasons for scepticism may vary over the years, but some arguments have proved remarkably persistent - for example, the Gospels were not written by people in a position to know what Jesus was like, primitive cultures believed in miracles that we know are impossible, theological interest precludes historical accuracy, non-canonical texts disprove the stories in the Gospels, and so on.

Such claims are in fact weakly supported, or have actually been disproved. However, various issues contribute to the complexity of the question of the Gospels' trustworthiness, and disagreements remain. Furthermore, confusion has been compounded by fiction promoted in popular culture, or by eccentric, unrepresentative scholarship.

Since its first appearance in 1987, Craig Blomberg's response to scepticism in The Historical Reliability of the Gospels has been widely appreciated. Fully revised and updated, this new edition takes account of the vast amount of relevant scholarship that has appeared over the last two decades.

Ranging over a wide field - differences between parallel accounts of the same event, the striking contrast between John and the Synoptic Gospels, the theological interests of the evangelists, the miracles of Jesus, the testimony of extrabiblical sources, and critical assessment of historical methods - Professor Blomberg presents a thorough, informed engagement with the main issues in the ongoing debates. Deliberately refusing to appeal to the inspiration of the Bible or to church tradition, he convincingly demonstrates the overall historical reliability of the Gospels.

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.


Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Inter-Varsity Press,US; 2nd Revised edition edition (10 Nov 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0830828079
  • ISBN-13: 978-0830828074
  • Product Dimensions: 23 x 15 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 857,010 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description

About the Author

Craig L. Blomberg is Distinguished Professor of New Testament, Denver Seminary. He is the author of numerous books, including 'Jesus and the Gospels', 'From Pentecost to Patmos', 'The Historical Reliability of John's Gospel', 'Interpreting the Parables', 'Neither Poverty Nor Riches', 'Contagious Holiness' and commentaries on Matthew and 1 Corinthians. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars
3.5 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth Reading but Weighty 27 July 2010
Format:Paperback
This book is an excellent primer in the study of the Gospels as historical records for the non-specialist reader who is prepared to read a book that is "weighty" in the academic sense of having a good scholarly apparatus (numerous footnotes and a 57-page Bibliography) and in the literal sense (it is four hundred pages long).

Blomberg describes and discusses the various methods by which scholars have studied the Gospels as historical documents. He discusses the specific problems of the Synoptic Gospels, the Gospel of John and of Miracles. He also looks at references to Jesus in early Greek, Roman and Jewish sources, and discusses the apocryphal gospels and the Nag Hammadi documents. Finally, there is an appendix critiquing the books of Bart Ehrman.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the question suggested by its title. However, you will have to treat it as a textbook and, if you would like to read something at a more popular level, I suggest FF Bruce, "The New Testament Documents: are they reliable?"
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A little dry but excellent for it's purpose 21 May 2006
Format:Paperback
This book can be hard going but if you just use it as a source and don't try and read it through it is excellent. For anyone who has read the Case For Christ by Strobel this book provides the academic source for many of his arguments and is a must have.

It is informative, well thought out and objective. I thoroughly reccomend it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
To begin with, you have to note what this book is and what it is not. Blomberg is only interested in the historical side of the gospels. Of course, from this stems the theological aspect, but that is not the aim of the book. I felt that it would have been apposite to include a look at Acts as well, given that that is the only other historical book of the New Testament, yet it has been omitted in this survey.

What follows is a work which summarises the scholarship of others. Blomberg begins by looking at the general methods for the historical study of the gospels. These include harmonisation, redaction criticism and form criticism. Here, I felt Blomberg was fairly even-handed and gave praise to each methodology where due and criticism where it was deserved. Though he does not explain until the end of the book why he failed to look at textual criticism.

He demonstrates that he is not afraid to tackle potentially thorny issues head-on as from here he launches straight into the issue of miracles. He lays out various objections that one may have to believing the miracle stories of the gospels and then sets about his task of trying to show why they may be considered reasonable.

From here, he then widens his viewpoint to look at contradictions between the Synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark & Luke). This is a little more reasonable than the previous section, particularly when one takes into account redaction criticism. The main argument is that if you accept that the gospels do not necessarily contain verbatim testimonies then to say "Jesus said x" may still be an honest and reliable account of the message he conveyed.

Moving on from the Synoptics, he goes on to look at the specific case of the gospel of John.
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6 of 30 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Rehashed Christian Apologetics 14 July 2009
Format:Paperback
Despite the claims not to use circular arguments; that is to use the Bible itself as evidence for the historical validity of the Bible, Blomberg does this over and over again. Further he fails to address in any serious scholarly way those that doubt the historicity of the Gospels, dismissing their arguments as invalid simply because they are in the minority. Basically, it's a book of mainly tired, rehashed apologetics with little new to add to the debate
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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  35 reviews
149 of 175 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a great book 31 July 2000
By Dan Sheppard - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I had just previously finished a book by John Dominic Crossan, which threw me for a loop. Not only did my mouth drop about a foot, I had this empty feeling about all the things I have believed all these years. He and Marcus Borg seem to take a real liberal approach to interpretation of biblical history, to the point of invalidation.
This book was a refreshing alternative to that previous one. It was well written and captivated my interest. I could not believe how much I used my yellow highlighter. This author has a good writing style and I have since purchased a couple of other books by him (on their way, Amazon!)
He took a thorough approach (used for his doctoral thesis, I believe) and has cited numerous other sources, which gives the reader other options for purchasing books with similar or alternate views. He effectively invalidated what numerous Nay Sayers have posited about the validity of the historical gospels, or lack thereof.
He addresses concerns over the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) and how they interrelate, as well as how they relate to the gospel of John. The author addresses miracles and many other issues.
I came away from reading the book, with a new feeling of faith. I could see how the historical gospels could in fact, be truthful and still are applicable in today's age. I feel that I better understand the methods used by those Nay Sayers, who have drawn their own interpretations and precisely why their conclusions are not accurate.
41 of 47 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Reasons for Historical Reliability of the Gospels 19 Dec 1997
By Conway Wong - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The book is an excellent examination of why evangelicals can intelligently understand what it means to view the Gospels as both theological AND historical works. Dr. Blomberg includes discussions on the use of Midrash, form and redaction criticism, and a chapter discussing miracles. I suggest one take notes while reading the book in order to fully comprehend the solutions that Dr. Blomberg offers to many questions that occur in Gospels research. It is not a soft-brained devotional but a toughminded examination for those who are interested.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Survey 10 Sep 2010
By Ivan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Chapter one is a general survey of how the Gospels have been traditionally approached by the Church throughout the ages. Of course, the earliest Christians dated the books much earlier than do modern day scholars. They also accepted traditional `tags' that came along with each book, and by `tags' I mean traditions that were linked to them; they accept that Mark's Gospel was the personal testimony of Peter and that, at least to Papias, Matthew was written originally in a Hebrew dialect. Many of these traditions are now, for the most part, reject by scholars. This chapter also deals with the Synoptic problem and the widely accept hypothesis of "Q", a hypothetical document that both Matthew and Luke used as a source to write their Gospels. (see pp 37-47)

Chapter two deals with new critical methods that scholars have used to understand the literary composition of the Gospels. Personally I feel this chapter is sort of a dry read, but tremendously informative. Blomberg analyses the strengths and weaknesses of form, redaction, literary, and midrash criticism. Blomberg goes on to make a great piont/argument that I wish to highlight here. Granting that Mark's Gospel was the first one written in about 70 C.E., how can we know during the 40 year period between Jesus' death and the first Gospel composition that the oral Jesus tradition wasn't corrupted, and, consequently, infected with corrupted tradition of Jesus sayings, stories and deeds?

Forty years isn't that long, comparatively speaking.
"Eyewitnesses of Jesus' ministry, including hostile ones, could easily have refuted and discredited the Christian claims during this period if they were in any way mistaken" (p 53)
Eyewitness testimony of Jesus' life and ministry could produce accurate information, witnesses are not limited to apostles since every single character (person) in the Gospels in a potential eyewitness to the life of Jesus.
If "Q" dating to about the 50's was a real document, that gets us even close to the person of Jesus than does a literary work 40 years removed from the event.
Just as the students of ancient Jewish rabbis would take and carry notes of their master's teachings, so would have the disciples of Jesus when passing on oral tradition by means of preaching from door to door and from house to house.
In conjunction with point 5, while the disciples passed along oral tradition, they could have also corrected any phony stories that were circulating at the time. This applies not only for the 40 period of no literary tradition, but all the way up to the end of the first century culminating in John's death. That's a period of 70 years, which, for the large part, had eyewitnesses supporting the Jesus tradition.
The last point which I wish to highlight (though there are many more) is the study of A. B. Lord on oral tradition. Lord studied a Yugoslavian folk singer who would recite `epic stories' of 100,000 words in length, but, amazingly, he would recite the whole story with anywhere between 90 to 60% accuracy. And when the singer would get a part of the story wrong, those familiar with the epic would correct the singer. In a similar manner, those reciting the Jesus tradition were be very able to produce accurate accounts of Jesus' sayings and deeds.
Next chapter (3) deals with the issue of miracles. It's probably one of the more interesting sections in the book. He deals with the other "miracles" in the apocryphal books as well as the ones in other Greek and Roman sources. He shows why the miracles that are sometimes erroneously said to be "parallels" to the synoptics truly aren't and gives good reasons to reject their actually taking place. He uses and cites many of the arguments for miracles by William Lane Craig and other fairly well known apologists. So, if you're familiar with those arguments you may find this chapter redundant; but for those who haven't read or seen those arguments, it'd be a welcoming chapter. Of course, out of all the miracles the big miracle of them all is the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. He defends the resurrection adequately in my opinion, often times drawing heavily from N.T. Wright while defending the physical, fleshly resurrection of Jesus.

Chapter 4 focuses on the so called contradictions of the Synoptics. This chapter is specifically why I recommend that before anyone reads this book, they read the Gospels thoroughly, preferably more than once if possible. If you don't, you'll be lost in this chapter for sure [or, at least in large part]. He touches on the claims that the Synoptics have conflicting theologies, chronological problems, omissions, composite speeches, differences in names and numbers, and on much more issues. He concludes that the reason why so many people believe the Synoptics are contradictory is because they "have never seriously interacted with the types of solutions proposed" in his book and in other writings." (195) The last point is very true. Many critics of the Bible, but specifically of the Gospels, simply dismiss the possibility of harmonization as "special pleading", which is unfair because it robs the Evangelists of their integrity.

The problems in the Gospel of John is what Chapter 5 interacts with. John is usually viewed separately and distinct from the Synoptics because it's simply just different from them not only in style, but in content as well. However, as Blomberg rightfully points out, critics usually don't point out the similarities between John and the Synoptics even though they are "much more complementary than is normally admitted." (203) In this chapter, Blomberg deals with the discrepancies between the Synoptics and John as it pertains to Jesus' death, theologies, passover, chronological issues, and other problems that are often pointed out. In the end, he concludes that many scholars are just too fast to simply castigate the Gospel of John than give in to the better solutions out there for harmonization of the Gospels. Again, he points out there sometimes scholars don't spend that much time looking into the issues as they probably ought to.

Chapter 6 and the Jesus-Tradition outside the Gospels. In this chapter Blomberg surveys Graeco-Roman sources (that is, historians such as Julius Africanus, Pliny the Younger, etc), Jewish sources including Rabbinic traditions, which not coincidentally had much to say about Jesus, Josephus, and extra-biblical Christian traditions (Epistle of Barnabas and Shepherd of Hermas). Blomberg also briefly surveys the Apostolic Fathers, specifically Ignatius, 1 Clement and Polycarp. He also covers the Apocryphon of James, Gospel of Philip, Gospel of truth and other less known, but relevant gospels. Finally, he surveys the rest of the New Testament for what can be said of the Jesus Tradition. Blomberg concludes by saying that "the external evidence for the Gospel traditions reinforces the confidence in their historical reliability, which the internal evidence has been building in previous chapters." (295)

All in all, it's a great book. This work is highly documented as Blomberg cites over 100 sources that can be found in his bibliography. The amount of citations are not just there for show. These citations demonstrate how strong a case can be made for the historical reliability of the Gospels, as even some critics are forced to admit. The volume also includes an authors index and a Scriptures index for easy referencing.
198 of 244 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Study -- Excellent Critique -- Excessive Apology 14 Feb 2001
By George R Dekle - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Blomberg distills the findings of the six volumes of "Gospel Perspectives," a work of conservative scholars. Most of those on the left wing of Biblical scholarship would argue that "conservative Bible scholar" is an oxymoron, but Blomberg proves them wrong. He gives a masterful study of the Synoptic Problem, arriving at the two (or four) document hypothesis as the most satsifactory solution. Next he engages in a cogent critique of modern methods of Biblical criticism, pointing out the worth of such methods as well as their preconceptions and limitations.
He then undertakes a study of the historicity of the Gospel stories, and turns in the most compelling scholarly argument I have ever read for the historical reliability of the resurrection narratives. So far, so good. Five stars up to this point.
Unfortunately, it is in his assessment of Gospel historicity that he goes astray. Blomberg argues repeatedly for the "camcorder exactness" of the Gospel stories. If the Gospels say it, that's exactly the way it happened, and any discrepancies from one story to the next are merely "apparent" discrepancies, which can be ironed out with enough imagination. As one who has made a career of evaluating and presenting testimony, I find that discrepancies in testimony don't equate to falsehood, and that it is neither necessary nor wise to pretend that there are no discrepancies in testimony.
Blomberg appears to begin with the conclusion of historical accuracy and to sift the evidence for arguments supporting his conclusion. That's not the way you do it. You work the evidence to form conclusions; you don't form the evidence to fit conclusions. You begin with no firmly fixed preconceptions. You collect your evidence, form a hypothesis that explains the evidence, collect more evidence, modify your hypothesis, collect more evidence, modify your hypothesis, and keep doing that until your are satisfied that your conclusions are valid. Only after you have arrived at your conclusions in an unbiased fashion, do you then argue for your conclusions. When you argue for your conclusions, you don't defend the indefensible. Trying to defend too much weakens your argument as a whole. Blomberg tries to defend too much. Example: Blomberg acknowledges that even the majority of conservative scholars find it unlikely that John wrote the Gospel of John. After making the concession, he then argues vehemently for John's authorship of the Gospel. The Gospel never claims it was written by John, and authorship by John is not necessary to a finding of historical accuracy. Why, then, defend John's authorship so staunchly? Blomberg's zeal in defending questionable conclusions casts doubt on the sound conclusions he presents.
37 of 43 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent introduction 18 April 2001
By Rick Morris - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book will probably not make a Christian of you, but it is certainly a good introduction to Gospel study. The primary focus is obvious in the title, and Blomberg makes an excellent case for it in this summation of the "Gospel Perspectives" series. All in all, I would recommend this book. It is hard going at times, but gave me a much better view of what is going on out there in terms of NT scholarship.
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