on 27 July 2010
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Blomberg describes and discusses the various methods by which scholars have studied the Gospels as historical documents.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?"
on 16 January 2012
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. He resorts to rhetorical flourishes at the end of his sections which give a far more firm conclusion than his own analysis allows for, which rather frustrated me as a reader. He tries to wriggle through arguments, rather than accepting what seems, to me at least, to be a far more reasonable conclusion that the gospel of John actually does have some inconsistencies with the Synoptics.
His last major study is to look at the historicity of Jesus outside of the gospels; in other words the potential corroborative or falsifying evidence. This is one of the more convincing chapters, though its main point seems to be correcting the false hypothesis that Jesus never existed, rather than affirming the specific details within the gospels.
His section on historical methods is, I think, bang on. Here, he discusses what should be the "status quo" of belief when looking at any historical source. Should it be disbelieved until otherwise shown to be true? Should it be believed until otherwise shown to be false? Or should the default position be somewhere between? For me, this should probably have formed part of the introduction to the book as this historical hermeneutic is vital to how one undertakes such a study.
In his conclusion, Blomberg does not conclude that the gospels are entirely historically accurate. The evidence is not strong enough. Instead, he concludes that they have "general reliability." That is, though they may not pin down every point precisely, they are sound enough to be regarded as the most trustworthy accounts for the life of Jesus.
on 14 July 2009
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