by Craig Blomberg
This present work, The Historical Reliability of the New Testament, gathers most of the major threads of some of my previous works together, in a completely new topical arrangement, but also moves on to numerous additional issues that the scope of my previous works prevented me from addressing at all. While not nearly as erudite or prodigious as Kenneth A. Kitchen’s magnificent On the Reliability of the Old Testament, it does share with Kitchen’s tome a desire to cover the major concerns spanning an entire Testament of the Bible with plentiful footnotes to just about every topic raised, in order to enable interested readers to dig more deeply wherever they might wish to do so.
I adopt an approach I have taken in my previous work, which, although widely practiced elsewhere, is not universally understood or represented accurately. I am a Christian believer of an evangelical persuasion with a high regard for the accuracy and authority of Scripture. But I did not begin my church or Christian life that way. It was a view I came to in large part as a result of my study and research. I was raised in a fairly liberal wing of a mainline Protestant denomination. I mark my true coming to faith as the result of a parachurch organization in my high school that was broadly evangelical and highly inter-denominational. While it maintained a high view of Scripture, it did not burden its teens with debates about inerrancy versus infallibility, inspiration, authority, and the like. In my undergraduate education at a private liberal arts college historically attached to the denomination in which I was raised, I was taught that it was impossible to be an evangelical and maintain my intellectual integrity. I was taught that the Bible was replete with errors, that it was a collection of books authored by Jews and Christians articulating their beliefs about God and his ways with humanity, but no more uniquely inspired than any other inspiring religious literature that had been penned throughout the ages, and sometimes less so.
Over and over again I heard the mantra repeated that something was theological and therefore it was not historical. Almost as common was the scornful dismissal of someone’s scholarship as just “apologetics”—defending the faith—and therefore worthy of no serious attention. I tried as hard as I could to make sense of these dichotomies and failed. I understood how something in service of an ideology might choose to distort the truth but recognized also how sometimes the nature of the ideology required its proponents to engage in as careful a recovery of historical facts as possible. I recognized that someone highly devoted to a cause that did not really merit their allegiance could exaggerate the evidence in its favor, but I also realized that people discovering truth through historical investigation might become passionately committed to a cause their research genuinely supported. Finally, I discovered I. Howard Marshall’s Luke: Historian and Theologian, just a few years after its first edition had appeared, and my hunches were confirmed. Something could be theological and historical. A work could exhibit high quality scholarship and be useful for defending the faith.
As a result, the first sparks of what would become a major preoccupation of my scholarly career were kindled. I attended a major evangelical seminary and then a state-sponsored, largely secular university overseas (where Marshall taught) to round out my formal education for my master’s and doctor’s degrees. My first published book was the one on the reliability of the Gospels, and I find myself continually coming back to the question of the Bible’s trustworthiness. It is the topic on which I have been asked to speak on college and university campuses and in local churches and community contexts more than any other, even though my book-length publications have ranged from topics as diverse as interpreting and preaching the parables, hermeneutics and exegesis, introductions to the New Testament, commentaries on several of its specific books, matters of material possessions and stewardship, Evangelical-Mormon dialogues, gender roles, Jesus’s meals with sinners, biblical eschatology, and effective generational ministry.
By design this is not a volume which lays out the skeptical claims, point by point, in excruciating detail, only to then respond ad seriatim with equal detail in defense of the New Testament. That would have required a volume more than twice the size of the present one. It is easy enough to find books or websites that list as many problems with the Bible as their authors can find but that do not interact with the most cogent scholarly responses (or with any scholarly responses). It is harder to find works that come from more conservative specialists who have immersed themselves in as much diverse scholarship (and, at times, pseudo-scholarship) as I have in the composition of this work, while at the same time packaging the material in what I hope are reasonably bite-size pieces that a wide range of the reading public can digest. Readers will have to decide for themselves, however, to what degree the case I make is persuasive.
Craig Blomberg is distinguished professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary.
Editor’s note: This is an adapted excerpt from The Historical Reliability of the New Testament. Order a copy at LifeWay, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Christianbook.com. Request a faculty review copy here.