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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

"Can We Still Believe the Bible?" (Craig L. Blomberg)

TITLE: Can We Still Believe the Bible?: An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Questions
AUTHOR:  Craig L. Blomberg
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2014, (304 pages).

Over the years, there has been a steady onslaught on the reliability of the Bible. From the existence of evil and suffering, to the suspicions over the authenticity and interpretations of the ancient manuscripts, time, culture, and intellectuals have continued to challenge the whether it truly is what it claims to be. Many have challenged the Bible on its exclusivity claims; progressive cultural interpretations; biblical ethics; and difficult issues such as genocide, violence, and the issues of myths. Describing all of the issues would have been a massive project. Blomberg has chosen six key issues with regards to the reliability of the Bible.

  1. Aren’t the Copies of the Bible Hopelessly Corrupt?
  2. Wasn’t the Selection of Books for the Canon Just Political?
  3. Can We Trust Any of Our Translations of the Bible?
  4. Don’t These Issues Rule Out Biblical Inerrancy?
  5. Aren’t Several Narrative Genres of the Bible Unhistorical?
  6. Don’t All the Miracles Make the Bible Mythical?

These six issues are those Blomberg deems as opportunities to show readers that the Bible is actually more reliable than we think. Based on new findings, on top of the historical evidence, Blomberg attempts to address these questions in a non-confrontational way, unlike some "handful of very conservative Christian leaders" who themselves have not really understood the implications of the new developments.

The first issue is about textual criticism, or how the ancient scriptures have been pieced together to form the Bible that we have today. Blomberg tackles the popular arguments made by Bart Ehrman, who himself gained substantial fame from his book that accuses biblical scholars of "Misquoting Jesus." Blomberg says that Ehrman himself is guilty of "misleading the masses." He questions Ehrman's selectivity of biblical verses to attack, focusing on a few that are controversial and forgetting about the rest that agree. Blomberg then gives readers a primer on understanding the complexities and science of textual studies. He concludes with a decisive stroke that the Bible is a lot more reliable than most of us think.

The second issue is about how politicized the Bible was. Again, Blomberg takes Ehrman to task, that he had his history dates mixed up. Instead of discussing the canon only at the time of the apostles, we need to go all the way back to pre-Christian times, that is, the Hebrew Scriptures. He traces the development of the canon, the Hebrew Old Testament, the Apocrypha, the Pseudepigrapha, the Septuagint, the New Testament, and tackles the questions of how and why some books are excluded. He shows us the criteria in which books are canonized: apostolicity, catholicity, and orthodoxy. He gives his take on the gnostic texts too, that the latter do not really provide any credible alternatives.

The third issue is about the growing number of English translations of the Bible. From the King James Version to the gender-inclusive controversy, Blomberg argues that the translations we have today are "sufficiently faithful" that we can study them without fear or hesitation. He highlights some similarities and differences among some translations, tracing the history of their developments, the three types of translation philosophies, and why five translations will stand out to be most popular in the coming years (KJV, NLT, ESV, NIV, NRSV). In discussing the pros and cons of some translations, Blomberg cautions us not to adopt an attitude of trying to "control the Bible" but to let the Bible control us.

The fourth issue flows from the previous one: Biblical Inerrancy which has been getting more and more divisive over the years. Blomberg shares about two kinds of biblical inerrancy: Inductive and deductive. The former begins with the Bible. The latter begins with an interpretation. Instead of choosing any of them, the author opts for a working definition made by Paul Feinberg, that “Inerrancy means that when all facts are known, the Scriptures in their original autographs and properly interpreted will be shown to be wholly true in everything that they affirm, whether that has to do with doctrine or morality or with the social, physical, or life sciences.” The reason why historic interpretations of inerrancy had come under attack is because of existential concerns that historical explanations cannot adequately explain. Plus, those of oppose inerrancy are more interested in controlling their own beliefs and behaviours rather than submitting to an external authority.

The fifth issue is about the difficulty of comprehending some narratives in the Bible as historical when it seems too incredible. Blomberg looks at the creation narrative, Jonah, Job, Isaiah, Daniel, and several New Testament books, and also notes the sad case of how some extremes pull people toward their own agendas so much that they stumble people. The important key in interpretation is genre awareness.

The sixth issue is about the miracles in the Bible and the nature of myths. In a world where science is increasingly more mainstream, Blomberg poses the question whether it is experience that can justify the miracles and the nature of myths. He looks at miracles through the two testaments and urges for openness to the existence of miracles even when science cannot explain it.

So What?

Blomberg is Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary. Despite his many writing projects already in the pipeline, this book quickly rose to the top of the stack simply because of his keen interest in the historical reliability of the Bible. The book is an unabashed defense of the reliability of Scriptures, and Blomberg is a solid guide in helping readers understand the many perspectives of the issues. He is sensitive about the different positions to each issue and makes a case for avoiding the extremes. He typically begins by addressing the individual objections and then turns the table around to say that the questions only serve to prove even more that the Bible is not what the accusers had claimed them to be. Backed by scholarship and a keen understanding of the historical development of each case, Blomberg tries to explain the issue and the different positions before putting forth his own.

While this book is not exactly about apologetics, it can provide evidence that supports the reliability of Scriptures. Let me close with the words of Dr Vernon Grounds, which the author had highlighted as the inspiration for this book.

"Here is no unanchored liberalism—freedom to think without commitment. Here is no encrusted dogmatism—commitment without freedom to think. Here is a vibrant evangelicalism—commitment with freedom to think within the limits laid down in Scripture." (Vernon Grounds)

This is important as far as evangelicalism is concerned. We are called to be under the Word, and not let our interpretations of the Bible lord over the Word. When we defend the reliability of Scriptures, we are doing more of the former. This book helps us do exactly that.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Brazos Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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