This review appeared in the Oct-Dec 2007 vol. 164 no. 4 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.Subscribe Today
Making Sense of the New Testament: Three Crucial QuestionsBaker Academic, Grand Rapids March 1, 2004
Following the success of Tremper Longman’s Making Sense of the Old Testament: Three Crucial Questions (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), Blomberg, distinguished professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary, wrote a complementary text on the New Testament. In this book he seeks to answer three questions. Is the New Testament historically reliable? Was Paul the true founder of Christianity? How are Christians to apply the New Testament to their lives?
Since he spends little time discussing the other New Testament books, his first question should more accurately be worded, Are the Gospels and Acts historically reliable? This is understandable, though, since he seems to be addressing whether one can believe the accounts of the Gospels and Acts about Jesus.
Blomberg begins his response by discussing the modern fascination with Jesus and Christian origins, as well as some of the modern methods used to discern whether information about Jesus is historically reliable. Turning to textual criticism, Blomberg argues that the validity of the New Testament is not threatened—as many suppose it to be—by variations among manuscripts, noting that a large percentage of the variants are minor issues such as spelling errors, differences in grammar, or accidental omissions (p. 22). This leads to a discussion of the dates of the Gospels. Blomberg makes a case for the mid-60s for the Synoptic Gospels, and in the 90s for John’s Gospel (p. 25). He also contends that the Gospels were written by their historically recognized authors, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
In discussing the genre of the Gospels and Acts, the author argues that when these books are understood in their literary context, no reason remains to deny their historical reliability. These works should not be held to the precise standards demanded of modern biographies, nor should they be dismissed as fabricated myths or legends about Jesus (p. 30). Blomberg rounds out the chapter by considering whether the authors were successful in their attempts to write accurate history/biography. He discusses alleged discrepancies among the accounts of the Gospels and Acts. He notes the historical corroboration of these five books that is given by non-Christian, Greco-Roman writers in the first century and later. Blomberg also notes the trustworthiness of the accounts based on historical figures and events of their day (e.g., Herod the Great, Agrippa, John the Baptist, etc.).
Chapter two deals with the second question, Was Paul the true founder of Christianity? Blomberg begins by discussing the theories of F. C. Baur, William Wrede, and Rudolf Bultmann, who claim that Paul drastically reinterpreted Jesus as someone He never claimed to be. Arguing from the Pauline Epistles that the apostle was familiar with Jesus’ teaching, Blomberg shows that Paul’s writings reveal an awareness of the same material about Jesus as the Gospel writers had (p. 76). Blomberg concludes that on central issues such as justification by faith, the kingdom of God, the role of the Law, and others, Jesus and Paul are “in profound agreement” (p. 106).
The chapter also includes a discussion of Christology in the Gospels. The author strongly discredits those theories that claim Paul wrongly transformed the often self-effacing Jesus of the Gospels into a God. Blomberg also discusses whether Paul’s dramatic conversion experience led him to a mistakenly high Christology. He explains that although the experience certainly would have changed the way Paul felt about Jesus, there still remained a catechetical process through which Paul would have learned what the early church believed about Christ (pp. 104–5).
In discussing principles for applying the New Testament today, Blomberg highlights the need to understand the transitional nature of Acts and urges caution about mimicking the actions of the early church and the apostles. Blomberg notes that when a reader understands what the text meant to its original author and audience, he or she can more effectively see how to apply it to contemporary situations (p. 143).
The book is short enough to be read quickly; yet it handles the issues adequately. Students who may be investigating Christianity’s claims and clergy or laypersons seeking to equip themselves to answer questions about these topics can benefit from this book.
—Samuel L. Perry with Michael H. Burer