What do I think of Craig Blomberg’s latest book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
I was one of those fortunate enough to get a copy in advance of Blomberg’s latest book for review purposes. As it stands, I was expecting to get a book on new findings that demonstrate the reliability of the Gospels and answers to atheist objections and matters of that sort. I was disappointed in that regards.
But sometimes, it’s good to be disappointed.
Blomberg’s book was not what I expected, and that’s a good thing, because he dealt more with issues surrounding the Bible. I don’t think he wrote this for skeptics of the faith as much as he wrote it for Christians to get them to focus on what’s really the most important, and there have been too many debates lately that have lost that focus.
The book moves in a gradual path from one point to the next connecting the chapters. There is a progression that the reader can easily pick up on that answers the major contemporary issues that are surrounding the Bible today. Also in this, Blomberg goes to great lengths to avoid extremes. There’s more of a happy medium in the topics that he raises that he encourages us to embrace.
The first topic Blomberg deals with is if we have the right words of the Bible or not. After all, if the text has just been so terribly corrupted, then how can we even begin to say we believe the Bible since we have no idea what it says?
We’ve seen those memes before that have the facts about the Bible about how the copies we have are late and there are only copies and copies and we possess no originals and since all of this is true, well we just can’t really trust the Bible.
The sad reality is that if the text of the NT cannot be trusted, the text of any other ancient document cannot be trusted. Now keep in mind at this point I am not saying the information conveyed in the text is true. I am simply saying that the text has been handed down reliably.
For every ancient text, we only have copies. Some of these are indeed centuries away from the original text. Sometimes, we only have a few extant copies. Yet the time span of the Bible is closer by far than other ancient texts and when it comes to the number of texts that we have, there is an embarrassment of riches.
In fact, we have more evidence of the reliability of the Biblical text than we did when Ehrman had his crisis of faith that he recounts in several of his books. Yet still, this idea persists that we can’t know what the authors of the Bible originally said. (Interestingly, Ehrman does think he can get to what the oral tradition was behind the text of the Bible. So Ehrman thinks he can take an inaccurate text and use that to get an accurate oral transmission?) A sign of this is that recently on Peter Boghossian’s Facebook page he put up a link to Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman and said he was sure the apologists would not comment.
As if any of us were just unprepared for Ehrman and had nothing to say.
This is also especially so since there is always new information coming. A book that came out shortly after Blomberg finished the manuscript I’m sure is The Early Text of the New Testament. There is even a rumor that we could have a 1st century copy of Mark, which would really devastate much of this ideology.
For those interested, Blomberg even goes into Old Testament textual criticism. He notes that the skeptics would have a stronger case here, but it is not made. I suppose the NT is the one that most want to deal with and sadly, too many Christians do ignore the OT.
On the other extreme, Blomberg advises not heeding groups of people like the KJV onlyists. As he tells us, each generation it seems this movement arises again and must be dealt with. I won’t go into what Blomberg says here, but he goes so far as to say the KJV onlyists go past the Muslims in the way they choose one text and just exclude all others.
The next topic to consider is the canon of the Bible. Did the church get it right with the canon? Blomberg here shows how many of the books were debated for the OT and the NT both but eventually made it in. He makes a case for why the Apocrypha was not included in the sacred literature and discusses the books that were selected to possibly be in the canon but in the end, were rejected.
What’s the other extreme to having the canon be flexible entirely? Well it’s to say that the Bible stands alone and is our only guide for anything. This gets ridiculous when we see many books on a Biblical Guide to X, where the topic is concerning matters the Bible was never meant to address. One can find principles that are consistent with the Bible, but let’s not get that confused with what the Bible is really authoritatively teaching. If you want to learn algebra, your best bet is a math textbook and not the Bible.
The next section deals with the topic of translations of the Bible. Why are there so many? Blomberg points out that there are different theories on biblical translation. Some go for a word-for-word translation as much as possible. Some want to focus on getting the meaning across more than a literal translation of the words. Then some try to go in the middle. There’s a time and place for each. It would be a mistake however to always think that the literal is best.
Naturally, there are some translations to avoid such as the NWT of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Joseph Smith Translation of the Mormons. I was also thinking Blomberg might have included something I read when I was in Bible College, which is the Scholar’s Version, the one put out by the Jesus Seminar which included the Gospel of Thomas.
Meanwhile, there is an extreme to avoid here and that has been a debate over gender-inclusiveness in the Bible. Now if we’re talking about turning God into a female for instance, then yes, I have a problem with changing that language, but when we talk about mankind in the generic sense, I really don’t have a problem. There are commands that are clearly wrong for men and women both and changing the language to indicate that is not an issue, yet sadly so many Christians have been ready to attack anyone that moves in a direction they don’t really like. This included an all-out attack on the TNIV.
Blomberg ultimately concludes that one can take any of the best-selling translations of the Bible and find the Gospel message in there. While I have my own preferences at times in translation, I do have to agree with that one.
Next we come to a big one. What about Inerrancy? As many know, I have been caught in the thick of this one having been someone who was a student at Geisler’s first Seminary he founded and even being one of his students for a time. I also happen to be the son-in-law of Mike Licona so when the Inerrancy wars started, I was right there.
One of the first points I really liked in this chapter was how Blomberg dealt with this idea that there is no academic freedom for many scholars since they have to agree to something in a statement such as Inerrancy. Blomberg points out that most scholars agree to that who teach at these institutions because in their background study for years, they’ve come to the conclusion that they agree and they don’t take such claims lightly. If they do change their minds, they move on from that institution to another. Unfortunately, stories like that don’t get attention. It’s when a professor gets “ousted” that the media suddenly show up.
Blomberg also says that “Inerrancy can be wielded as a blunt tool to hammer into submission people whose interpretation of passages differ from ours, when in fact the real issue is not whether a passage is true or not but what kind of truth it teaches.”
Too many times I have seen the idea put forward that because Inerrancy is true, a teaching is true. It could be young-earth creationism. It could be pre-trib dispensationalism. It could even be that the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27 is a real historical event instead of something apocalyptic!
Consider for instance the doctrinal basis for being a member of the Evangelical Theological Society.
“The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.
God is a Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory.”
So to answer someone like Geisler who would ask “Could Mary Baker Eddy join the ETS?”, the answer would be no. She would not agree with the second. Yet notice that believing in the first does not mean one automatically believes in the second. One can believe the Bible is Inerrant and still get the second question wrong in thinking the Bible does not teach a Trinity. Jehovah’s Witnesses do this. Yet they could certainly not join ETS.
If you want to know if a person denies Inerrancy, it is not to be found in looking at what that person thinks the Bible teaches. Where is the knowledge that they deny Inerrancy to be found? It is in saying that they think the Bible has errors in it.
It is not a surprise then that the opposite extreme in this chapter is someone like Geisler again. Blomberg points out that if Geisler and those like him had their way, there would hardly be anyone left in ETS. This is the same Geisler who likes to use ETS as a weapon in the Licona debate to point out how Gundry was voted against (Which is covered in the next chapter) but ignores that the vote didn’t go his way with open theism. At this, Geisler left the institution and called it the Formerly Evangelical Theological Society. Now that he needs the Gundry vote again for his case, then he can start using the ETS once more. Blomberg points out that Geisler has repeatedly left Seminary after Seminary, including the one he founded, because none of them were conservative enough for him. I concur with Dr. Michael Bird.
“I thought a big highlight was Blomberg’s critique of extreme views of inerrancy by Robert Thomas and especially Norman Geisler. It becomes clear that Geisler in particular is not a particularly pleasant chap to work with and has never found an institution that was worthy of him. Seriously, Geisler is the villain of this chapter and comes across as being slightly to the right of Atilla the Hun.”
It is good to see evangelicals like Bird and Blomberg coming out and standing up to what has been going on and being willing to really use all the historical tools that we can to examine the Bible instead of imposing modern standards on the text.
Related to this is the fifth chapter on genre categories in the Bible. Again, Blomberg covers both testaments. He asks questions about the nature of Job, Jonah, and the authorship and dates of books like Daniel and Isaiah and asks if the critical approach to any of these would really be a death knell for Inerrancy, concluding that they would not.
When it comes to the NT, he brings up the Gundry issue that I hinted at earlier and again points out the way Geisler behaved in this one. Gundry had the idea that much of Matthew was midrashic and thus not meant to be read as historical. It was something the readers would have known about and thus would not be a danger to Inerrancy.
Geisler would have none of it and encouraged the ETS to oust Gundry from membership. Most of the society however said that Gundry should be allowed to make his case and let it be critiqued in the scholarly circles instead of by censuring him. If there was little to his proposals, they would not gain scholarly support and would die out. Yet in the end, Gundry was voted out of the society. How did this happen when so many were saying what they said?
Answer. Geisler started a political campaign and had friends show up who normally would not come to meetings. The views presented were not presented in their fullest and just barely over the 2/3rds needed voted to remove Gundry. Blomberg points out that someone as stalwart as D.A. Carson did not see a violation of Inerrancy here, though he certainly saw no credibility to Gundry’s views. No shock Geisler has followed similar tactics against Mike Licona.
The simple solution to all of this is to do what we encourage skeptics to do. Follow the evidence where it leads. If the evidence shows that the Gospels are Greco-Roman biographies for instance, and scholarship across the board tends to go this way, then let us go with it. Let us find a way to shape our worldview according to the facts. Let’s not shape the facts according to our worldview.
The final chapter is on miracles. Now I must admit this one was probably the one that I thought could be improved on the most as in dealing with objections to miracles, there are mainly endnotes referring to Keener and Hume. For a book like Blomberg’s I would have liked to have seen some of the argumentation take place, although I certainly agree that pointing to someone like Keener is the way to go.
In this chapter, Blomberg looks at the miracles in both testaments and focuses mainly on the purpose of the miracles and their nature in comparison to claims in other religions. He notes many of the accounts are rather restrained and are meant for a specific purpose instead of just show. This is especially so in the case of Jesus’s miracles in the NT. He also uses the NT time to go after the health and wealth word of faith teachers. Many people Jesus healed did not have faith.
There are two extremes to avoid. The first is to believe all miracle claims. All claims of miracles should be believed or disbelieved based on the evidence that we have available. The next is to be overly skeptical of all miracles, and this includes Christians who believe the miracles of the Bible, but stalwartly refuse to admit any miracle in any other religion. This becomes a double-standard.
Meanwhile, you can also have claims such as John MacArthur with the “Strange Fire” conference where all charismatic were painted with a broad brush. Now I am in no way charismatic, but I agree that MacArthur crossed a big line with this one. Naturally, one can be on guard, but one should always be open to being wrong, and I have many Christian brothers and sisters in the charismatic movement. I have no desire to question their salvation.
In the end, I think Blomberg’s book is an excellent one. It’s not one on biblical apologetics per se, but it does fill a necessary gap. Blomberg’s writing remains us where our true focus needs to be. I highly recommend this one for students of Scripture.