We recently asked Craig Blomberg to talk to us about his books, and in response he has given us a very informative survey of his important work … and of some yet to come!
Guest Blog by Craig Blomberg
How much mileage can one get out of the theme of the historical reliability of Scripture? I have often been asked that question, though that is not why I keep writing books on the topic! I keep writing them because new and old issues keep surfacing (or re-surfacing) and because people tell me what I have written has proved helpful.
Many people’s point of entry into my scholarship on the topic has come through Lee Strobel’s now almost twenty-year-old Case for Christ. Lee is the consummate popularizer. He knows how to paraphrase an interviewer’s words and simplify their answers to his questions in order to create books that almost anyone can understand. Popularizing, however, doesn’t tend to include clarifications, qualifications, caveats, exceptions to rule, etc. So various people have responded to Blomberg as interpreted and digested by Strobel and pointed out potential and real fallacies in what they think they’ve heard or read, some of which are in fact legitimate.
I encourage people who can manage more detail and complexity to go directly to my published writings. The very first book I ever wrote was The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, now in its second edition, and soon to reach thirty years of being in print. That amazes me when I think about it, but I guess I have Dan Brown (author of the DaVinci Code) and other novelists to thank. Make up fictitious ideas about a controversial and important figure like Jesus and those who don’t want to deal with the person he really was jump to believe them while rejecting portraits based in sober historical evidence.
I devoted one chapter in Historical Reliability of the Gospels to the unique problems associated with the Gospel of John but knew that to do them justice I would have to write a second book just on that topic. It too remains in print after fifteen years, though its recent consignment to paperback reminds me that it may not continue to be reprinted that much longer!
My good friend Eckhard Schnabel, who teaches at Gordon-Conwell Seminary and does the research and writes the kind of books that I can’t (like a two-volume, nearly 2000-page survey of early Christian mission, mastering every resource in the library of the University of Marburg, Germany) asked me several years ago when I was going to complete my trilogy and write on the historical reliability of Acts. I laughed and said I thought he was going to be doing that in his Acts commentary for the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary series. He replied that he had written nearly twice as much as they would allow to stand for the format of that series and so much of what he was cutting was material on historicity rather than on the actual meaning and significance of the text.
Fortunately, I didn’t take Eckhard’s advice because I soon learned that Craig Keener has produced what would be published in four massive volumes—a historical commentary on Acts that would render redundant any further work on that topic (though not necessarily on the meaning of the text) for at least a generation. But I did embark on The Historical Reliability of the New Testament, which is slated to appear this November in time for the annual academic conferences that biblical and theological geeks attend in the thousands—the gatherings of the Evangelical Theological Society, the Evangelical Philosophical Society, the Institute of Biblical Research and the joint conference of the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion.
In so doing, I have only two and a fraction chapters that deal with Acts, though they are substantive and survey what I think are the most important issues. I reconfigure issues on the Gospels to discuss them in ways that differ from what I have done before and update many things in light of the most recent round of research. But I then go on to deal with Paul, Hebrews, the so-called General Epistles and Revelation because, while these are letters for the most part and, in one instance, an apocalypse, there are issues of historical credibility attached to all of them.
Is Paul the real founder (or distorter) of Christianity? How does he come off in comparison with Jesus? What about all the supposed contradictions between Paul and Acts? What about the autobiographical and other historical information Paul himself discloses in his letters that isn’t found anywhere else in the New Testament? And what about the vexed question of pseudonymity or pseudepigraphy that surrounds six of the letters attributed to Paul and just about every one of the other epistles in the New Testament?
With Revelation the historical questions are the most indirect but an appreciation of everything that dovetails with an end-of-first-century setting in the context of the Roman empire and its treatment of Christians in Asia minor is still an important topic. Finally, I turn to topics not directly tied or limited to one section of the New Testament—issues of text and canon, Gnostic and other apocryphal literature, and the problem or miracles in general and the resurrection in particular. The first and last of these three topics overlap with what I wrote in Can We Still Believe the Bible? but by focusing solely on New Testament issues here I can go into more detail. Nor do I try to deal with the “far-right” on issues of biblical accuracy, as I did in that book, addressing those who object to the kind of apologetic that utilizes historical evidence because it doesn’t first presuppose the inspiration or inerrancy of Scripture. I simply show where I believe the historical evidence leads us, which is consistently in a most faith-affirming direction.
My new book is rather uncreatively entitled The Historical Reliability of the New Testament and is being published by B & H Academic. Another good friend and former student of mine, Michael Westmoreland-White, also asked me a haunting questions several years ago. When, he asked, was I ever going to move beyond establishing the reliability of the NT and turn to articulating its theological and ethical perspectives? I was happy to be able to tell him not long after he asked that question that I had signed a contract with Baylor University Press to produce just such a NT Theology, the preparation of which I am in the very throes of at the moment. My due date is the end of November 2017 and Carey Newman, their editor, has promised me that if I get him the manuscript by then he will have it for the new books displays at the conferences just before Thanksgiving 2018, which will be, for the first time since that awful fall of 2001 (as in 9/11 for those who have forgotten the year), here in Colorado and in Denver, Lord willing. A nice present for the year I will have turned 63!
Craig L. Blomberg
Distinguished Professor of New Testament, Denver Seminary, Littleton, CO