The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (Book Review)

The Historical Reliability of the Gospels by Craig Blomberg

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With the turn of each page, I found myself asking “where was this book when I was in college?”  I’ve read many books searching for answers since discovering the world of Christian apologetics during my freshman year, but none has answered so many of my nagging questions as Craig Blomberg’s The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (hereafter HRG).  Dr. Blomberg has done the evangelical community a great service by sifting through the scholarly six volume Gospel Perspectives series and condensing the spirit of its research into a single work.  With the rise of higher critical methods in the last few hundred years, the gospels have come under such fierce attack that many Christians who are exposed to such ideas find themselves doubting or even losing their faith.  Blomberg plays both guide and teacher on a seven-phase tour, first introducing the relevant issues of gospel harmony and dissonance, then showing the reader a brief survey of the history of gospel higher criticism.  Then he tackles the problems in the gospel texts, discussing miracles, apparent contradictions in the Synoptics, and difficulties the gospel of John.  The tour then considers the extra-gospel Jesus traditions and concludes by touching on the historical method of gospel study.  The Christian leaves the tour with many of his questions answered and his faith in the gospel texts restored, while others realize (perhaps for the first time) that there is such a thing as conservative, evangelical scholarship and that believing the gospel witness does not require blind faith.

HRG begins by evaluating the traditional approaches to demonstrating the reliability of the gospels.  Gospel harmonization dominated church history through the seventeenth century, being the primary method of addressing the similar but non-identical testimonies in the gospel accounts.  Harmonization as a method was primarily used in a literal fashion, although a figurative model also had important adherents.  Beginning at the Enlightenment, liberal scholars came to the forefront of biblical study and concentrated on discovering the “historical” life of Jesus lurking behind the gospel accounts.  Their conclusions differed widely, but they generally shared a naturalistic and rationalistic worldview.  Another goal during this era was the search for synoptic gospel origins (known as source criticism).  The critics sought to go beyond the question of whether any gospel borrows from another, and instead proposed complex theories of hypothetical sources to explain the origin of material either unique or common among the gospels.  Blomberg suggests there is most likely some truth in the various gospel source theories, but emphasizes caution when referring to documents that existed only in theory.

(Continue reading here.)

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