Book Plunge: The Historical Reliability of The New Testament

What do I think of Craig Blomberg’s book published by B&H Academic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Craig Blomberg has recently written a rather large tome on the reliability of the New Testament and it is one that is definitely in-depth. There is hardly a major issue of New Testament studies that you won’t find here. Blomberg has extensive footnotes as he wrestles with most issues that are alive today in discussion.

Want to know about the Gospels and who wrote them? It’s there. When were they written? It’s there. What about the epistles? There. What about forgery in the epistles? Blomberg has you covered. There’s even a section on Revelation. Why? Because much of Revelation does fit into a historical setting. (This could also be an area I disagree with Blomberg some on as he prefers what he calls a Preterist-Futurist approach. I prefer just an Orthodox Preterist approach. I’m pleased to see he rightly condemns neohymenaeanism.

Blomberg also writes on issues related to textual criticism and the canon. How do we know that the New Testament has been handed down accurately? Even if it has been, there were a lot of other books that could have gone into the canon. Right? Wasn’t this just a decision made at Nicea? (I would also go against Blomberg here saying that this largely comes from Dan Brown. Brown popularized it, but this claim was going on long before Dan Brown.)

If you want to know about those other accounts, there’s a section on them too. Like I said, Blomberg is thorough. It’s hard to think of a way that he could be more meticulous than this.

The final section is on miracles and the resurrection. Again, this is one area where I would disagree on the use of the term supernatural. I have a hard time with this because it is never clearly defined and I think it in fact gives the atheist a free pass with thinking that the natural doesn’t really need an explanation. While it’s not in his area, Blomberg starts off by pointing to others who have written on the existence of God (And I do wish he’d mentioned the Thomistic arguments, in my opinion, the best.) and then goes on to make the case for miracles largely using the work of Craig Keener.

The positives of this volume are that despite it being large, it is also easy to understand. A layman will get a lot out of this volume. If the reader only wants to know about one area, say the synoptic Gospels, for instance, no problem. Just go there. If you want to know about the formation of the canon, no problem. Just go there.

A work like this is also a good response to people who immediately decide there is no evidence for anything in the New Testament. Sadly, few of them will ever bother to pick up a work like this and will instead run to internet sites that already agree with them. Those who do manage to work their way through Blomberg’s book will be blessed for it.

If you want a go-to book on the reliability of the New Testament as a whole, this is the one to go to. In New Testament courses on apologetics even at a Seminary’s level, Blomberg’s book should be a staple for a long time to come. He has also said he will be having a theology book coming out next. We eagerly look forward to it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters


Book Plunge: If You Call Yourself A Jew

What do I think of Rafael Rodriguez’s book published by Cascade books? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

First off, some of you are wondering where the blog has been. We had some web site difficulties, but it looks like things are working now and hopefully they will stay working. We have been unable to record the last two episodes of the Deeper Waters Podcast, but we will be putting up soon the wonderful interview I had with Craig Keener on December 5th. For now, let’s look into the book we’re reviewing today.

I must admit my possible bias upfront and how I am entering dangerous territory in some ways. I am studying a Romans course next semester and the book that I am writing a review for here is actually not only on the reading list, but is in fact a book written by my teaching professor himself. Still, I will try to be as impartial as I can. Where there is something to praise, I plan to praise, and where there is something to critique, I hope to critique.

The idea Rodriguez starts with is that too often we have assumed that there were Jews of a sizable portion in Rome who had returned after the ban of Claudius was lifted. We know from Seutonius that the Jews had been expelled around 49 A.D. and this matches with what happens in Acts when Priscilla and Aquila show up and Paul starts working with them. They did get to come back and many commentators on Romans think that there was a sizable portion in the Roman church and Paul wrote to deal with a situation that was involving relations between Jews and Gentiles. This is something common, but Rodriguez calls it into question.

At the start, I do wish there had been some clarification here. It would be good for it to be said that there was no sizable population because sometimes I got the impression that it was believed that there weren’t any Jews in the Roman church. I would doubt this on simply historical grounds and on purely historical grounds, I do not think there is any way we could know this since we don’t exactly have the demographics of the Roman church. There is unfortunately no doubt going to be a lot of speculation on history whichever way we go since the specifics are not spelled out for us. We know Paul wrote Romans. We have a good idea of when he wrote it. We know he wrote it to the Romans church. We know what he wrote to them. It’s the why that’s often so difficult.

Rodriguez is not so sure on this point. Some of us will look at passages like Romans 2 which seem to be talking to a Jewish audience and saying “Well this sure looks like someone Jewish to me?” Rodriguez suggests that instead of seeing it as a Jew that Paul has in mind for who he’s interacting with, imagine Paul has in mind an interlocutor who is in fact a Gentile that has chosen to live under Jewish Law. What would such a person have to say about the righteousness found in Christ? After all, Paul makes the statement of “If you call yourself a Jew.” Could it be this is someone who sees themselves as a Jew not by nationality, but rather by an adoption of sorts?

It’s not really a far-fetched idea. I have heard some people theorize for instance that the Judaizers who went to the churches in Galatia might not have been Jews themselves but Gentiles who had chosen to live under Jewish Law. Rodriguez theorizes that if you take the position that he does, it changes the way the whole letter is read including when you get to chapters 9-11 which are often a hotspot of controversy in the book. I cannot say that I am fully persuaded by his hypothesis at this point, but I can definitely say that it does make sense and is no doubt worthy of further investigation.

From then on, the book becomes a commentary as well on the passages and often this can be a commentary that will be theologically motivating. The reader will be greatly blessed by reading this even if one does not agree with the hypothesis overall as there are some excellent writings on Christian living. This is not a book just meant to argue a case for a position on Romans after all, but to leave the reader with a greater understanding of Romans.

I do also agree with Rodriguez that the passage in Romans 7 is not autobiographical. Although many Christians can relate to it, Paul is not describing his own life before becoming a Christian. I don’t think Rodriguez’s interpretation of the Gentile interlocutor is as convincing as Ben Witherington’s idea that Paul is speaking as Adam and I do not think going back to Romans 5 is going back too far in the letter. Despite that, I am thankful that Rodriguez definitely recognizes that this is not Paul speaking of himself.

I did often wish that there would have been more on some difficult passages. For instance, what about in Romans 8 where it talks about he who put creation in bondage. Who is the he? There was not much if anything said on this and I would have liked to have seen that. I wouldn’t have minded also seeing some more expounding on a passage such as Romans 9:5 where it speaks about Jesus and describes Him as God.

I also was not convinced by his handling of Romans 16. I found that too brief and with the suggestion that the people there were not part of the Roman church. It could be, but I’m just not sold yet and that passage does indeed show that there were a number of people in the congregation then who would have been of Jewish descent. A most interesting case would have been Junia who Witherington thinks could have been Joanna from Luke 8:3 with a Greco-Roman name and possibly a new husband as well.

Also, I think Rodriguez does play too little with the extra-biblical data. While it can be that too many commentators have looked outside the text for information instead of focusing on the text, there is in fact a danger of missing the context the letter was written in and if we want to know who the audience was, any information from outside of the text should be taken seriously. Rodriguez does interact with this, but not as much as I would like.

Despite this, Rodriguez’s book is an easy read and in fact one the layman with some background knowledge could read. If you want to be a student of Romans, this is an idea worth considering. I hope more scholars will consider the idea of Rodriguez since it is an intriguing one and I must say I am certainly open to it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Rediscovering Jesus

What do I think about the new book from Rodney Reeves, Randy Richards, and David Capes published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Rediscovering Jesus by Capes, Reeves, and Richards is a surprising read. Now I had read this book shortly after reading Rediscovering Paul so I was expecting something like that, but that isn’t exactly what I got. At the start, I was kind of disappointed hoping to find more about the culture of Jesus and especially looking at Jesus from an honor and shame perspective. That disappointment was only initial. As I got further into the book, I found myself quite intrigued and fascinated by what I was reading in the book and I found the idea for consideration a fascinating one.

This idea is to look at Jesus in isolation from the major sources that we have, such as the Gospel writers individually, the Pauline epistles, Hebrews, the general epistles, and Revelation. What would it be like if each source was the only source we had on Jesus? We usually take a composite of all we have on Jesus and then put that together and say this is the real Jesus. There is no fault in this, but looking at each case in isolation can be an interesting case study. Imagine how different our worldview would be if the only source we had on Jesus was the book of Revelation?

While these are fascinating, there is also a second section where we look at Jesus from other sources. What about the Gnostic Jesus such as popularized in works like The Da Vinci Code? What about the Jesus of Muslims who never died on the cross? What about the historical Jesus of modern historians who do not hold to the reality of miracles? What about the Mormon Jesus that looks like a Jesus made just for America? Speaking of that, what about the American Jesus as here in America, Jesus is used to promote and sell just about anything. Every side in every debate usually wants to try to claim Jesus. Finally, what about the Cinematic Jesus? Many of us have seen Hollywood movies about Jesus. Some are good. Some are not. How would we view Jesus if all we had were those movies to watch? (And since so few people read any more, this could become an increasingly common occurrence.)

For me, honestly the most fascinating section was the one on the American Jesus. This dealt with so much I see in my culture. It’s interesting we don’t talk about the French Jesus or the Japanese Jesus or the Italian Jesus. It’s more the American one. This one changes so much to being the super manly Jesus who takes the world like a man or the Prince Charming Jesus that every girl sings about as her boyfriend. This can be the pragmatic Jesus who is there to help us promote our culture, or it can be the Superman Jesus who rescues us when we’re in need, but then disappears. I do have to admit I am a Superman fan so I could see the parallels very easily and while I do think there are valid parallels, we do not want to see Jesus as identical with Superman. If there’s any chapter in the book I keep coming back to mentally, it’s this one. I will certainly be watching my culture much more.

I find this book to be one of the most eye-opening ones I have read in that sense. I do not think I ever paused to consider what it would mean if all I had to tell me about Jesus was just one particular source or one kind of source. How much richer off we are for having all these other sources! We can also be thankful for the non-Christian sources as well because these can highlight aspects of the Biblical Jesus that we might have lost sight of or they could show that the Jesus of the Bible is so much greater by contrast. If an outside source says something true about Jesus, we are the better for it. If it says something false, this can contrast with the true and we are the better.

I recommend the work wholeheartedly. It fortunately also comes with questions at the end that make it ideal for small group discussion.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Rediscovering Paul

What do I think of the book by Rodney Reeves, E. Randolph Richards, and David Capes published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Paul. He’s a fascinating figure. Who is the man and what shaped him? What can we learn from him today? There are many fine books out there about Paul and many fine ones from a Christian perspective, but now we have an extremely thorough one that seems to hit Paul from all angles and the church owes Reeves, Richards, and Capes a debt of gratitude for this excellent gift. It is a book that is highly readable and with solid content. While it could be seen as a primer of sorts with further reading at the end of each chapter to encourage the reader to study further, it could easily be seen as a reliable guide in itself and one who reads this will have an excellent understanding of the world of Paul.

The book also includes several sidebar statements where the authors ask about a claim “So what?” Students often want to know what difference that something that can be often thought to be a tangential point. Isn’t this just something that nerdy scholars would care about? What difference will it make in my own life. The authors want you to know what difference it does make. There also are “What’s More” sections. In these, the authors add in additional details and sometimes even post ideas that would be challenging to our modernistic ways of thinking and say “Maybe we should take Paul a little bit more seriously here.”

It is incredible how thorough this book is. I particularly enjoyed the first part with reading about the honor-shame culture. This is a favorite area of mine to study and I wish more people spoke about it and I’m encouraged to know that NT students who are beginning their studies will be learning about this fascinating area. In fact, there are a number of times in the book I was thinking an area had been left out. For instance, when it comes to the section on the writing of letters I knew I was getting to the end and was thinking “What would be really nice is if they had included something on how much it cost to write one of these letters.” What do you know? Right towards the end there’s a section on the cost of writing the letters.

The authors also spend time going through each book of Paul’s. Some of these are handled in sections, such as the Pastorals. Some of them have their own chapters, which is fitting due to the influence of these books. The student who comes to the text will have a greater knowledge of all of the epistles of Paul as a result. It rounds off with a look at Paul’s theology as well as an excellent look at how it is that Paul’s letters came to be collected and made into a canon. The final section is on Paul’s legacy. What difference has Paul made? How has he been seen in history? What does he have to say to our world today?

It’s hard to think that a book could be so thorough on the life of Paul and his work and impact, but indeed, it is. I absolutely stand behind this book and hope that it is put into the hands of students going into ministry. The student who reads this book will be better equipped to understand Paul the man, the works of Paul, and be able to even make a defense for the works of Paul today. Even better, he will be able to take his own personal holiness much more seriously and consider how Paul is to have an impact on his life today. Hopefully he’ll have the same focus that Paul had, that God is in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.

This is a must read book for all interested in Paul.

In Christ,
Nick Peters