This review originally appeared on [...] on 3/16/10.
Special thanks to India of Broadman & Holman for a review copy of this book.
Over a year ago, I noted that Craig Blomberg's Jesus and the Gospels is the single best book on... well... Jesus and the Gospels. I also noted that a new edition would be coming out later that year, which I'm now happy to review. My feelings regarding the book haven't changed at all over time. I'm just as excited about it now as I was when I first read it 10 years ago.
The book is divided into 5 main sections: Historical Background for Studying the Gospels, Critical Methods for Studying the Gospels, Introduction to the Four Gospels, A Survery of the Life of Christ and Historical and Theological Synthesis. Each section can be read on their own and out of order, though of course it is helpful to take the material in the order given. The book is "textbookish," which shouldn't be surprising since it was written as a textbook. Blomberg does a phenomenal job of weaving through debates in a concise but informative manner, along with giving suggestions for further reading. He offers his opinions when there are differing options, but he represents other viewpoints well and doesn't force his reading on the text.
I'll select two sections to highlight. First, his opening section on the historical background is extremely helpful, especially for those who have little knowledge of the culture and historical circumstances in which Jesus was born, lived and died. Whether Blomberg's discussing the Maccabean Revolt or the religious groups in 1st century Israel (Pharisees, Sadducees, etc), the reader walks away with a clear understanding of the major players and events that form the backdrop of the Gospels. And- this is very important- you won't find yourself nodding off like you did in ancient history class (or was that just me?).
Second, Blomberg's Survey of the Life of Christ functions as a wonderful mini-commentary on the Gospels. Blomberg deals with issues of historicity and harmonization (perhaps a bit more than I would), as well as offering thoughts on each episode in the life of Christ as seen in the Gospels. I'm consistently impressed with just how much information is fit into a relatively short space, with attention given to distinctives in each Gospel, interpretive options and short, but crucial, exegetical notes. You won't have all your questions answered in this section, but you'd be surprised just how many are.
There are probably a few places where I disagree with Blomberg on matters of interpretation, but honestly I can only think of 2 off the top of my head. 1) Blomberg sees Jesus' death as happening in 33AD, whereas I lean (ever so slightly) to a 30AD date. 2) I don't think the Temple "clearing" (Blomberg's preferred term) found in John 2 is a separate event from the one seen toward the end of the Synoptic Gospels. That's it. These aren't exactly the issues denominations divide over. Like I said, I'm sure there's probably more, but that's all I can came up with at the moment.
There will be some who own the 1st edition and will be wondering if they need to get the 2nd edition. I'm not sure you need to run out and buy it right away if you own the 1st, but I'd make room in my budget to update it at some point. And if you don't own this book in any editon, you should. It would be helpful if this book existed in paperback in order to drop the price a bit. If it were a tad cheaper, I could see this book used in a church class (as it is, it certainly could be, I just know people in my church will struggle with the thought of dropping $30 on a book).
So who would benefit most from this book? Honestly, pretty much anyone can. Laypeople will find this book an accessible guide to Jesus and the Gospels. The only section that may not interest most laypeople would be the Critical Methods chapter, but it wouldn't be because it's over their head. Pastors and teachers couldn't ask for a better book to help them in their personal study and preparations to teach the material. As I've said in the past, I've been using this book for years and see absolutely no reason to stop now. Simply put, I've yet to find a guide as reliable as Blomberg or a book as well-written.