Friday, May 30, 2014

Can We Still Believe the Bible?

Craig L. Blomberg, Can We Still Believe the Bible?: An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Questions. Brazos Press, 2014. 287 pages. ISBN 978-1-58743-321-4.

Craig L. Blomberg is distinguished professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary and the author and editor of several books, including The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, Jesus and the Gospels, and A Handbook of New Testament Exegesis. Blomberg addresses six of the most important questions concerning the reliability of the Bible in this book:

1. Aren't the Copies of the Bible Hopelessly Corrupt?
2. Wasn't the Selection of the 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?

Blomberg has been teaching at Denver Seminary for 28 years. He is a well-respected New Testament scholar. This book is in some sense a response to scholars like Bart Ehrman who claim that the Bible cannot be trusted. In this book, Blomberg describes the reasons he believes that the Bible can be fully trusted. The six questions he addresses is considered some of the most important questions people are asking about the Bible today.

One of the reasons Blomberg wrote this book is because of his own experience as a college student at a liberal arts college: "I came to faith in my sophomore year of high school, in the spring of 1971. In college, from 1973 to 1977, I majored in religion at a private liberal arts college that in many respects was running from its Christian heritage as fast as it could. Between actively engaging anyone in my public high school who would talk with me about Christian faith and delving into the whole gamut of liberal arts curriculum in college, I think I encountered virtually every major historic challenge to traditional, orthodox Christianity during those seven years of schooling. Rarely were the classic or contemporary Christian responses to those challenges ever presented or acknowledged in my classrooms" (5-6). Blomberg understands what it is like to wrestle with these issues without knowledge and help.Can We Still Believe the Bible is written to provide knowledge and assistance in helping the believer struggle with challenges the the Bible's validity. In each chapter he addresses the challenges proposed by skeptics of the Bible. In addition, he addresses positions taken by ultra-conservatives in Evangelical ranks. Blomberg stakes a middle position between the left and the far right on many of these issues. Some evangelicals might think he is too hard on those on the far right. He explains that Jesus and the apostles were hardest on religious leaders who were in positions of authority.

In chapter one Blomberg responds to accusations by Ehrman about the Bible being full of errors. He explains about variant readings in the manuscripts and how very little effect doctrinal teaching. In addition, compared to other ancient manuscripts how solid is the evidence for the Biblical manuscripts. Blomberg notes, "It cannot be emphasized strongly enough that no orthodox doctrine or ethical practice depends solely on any disputed wording" (27). Some might think Blomberg has put it too strong. They might say no central or essential doctrine is based on a disputed passage. Even Ehrman has said in his book, Misquoting Jesus, "that essential Christian beliefs are not affected by textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament" (27-28). Blomberg provides detailed information about the manuscript tradition of both Old and New Testaments. The arguments and evidence he provides are quite convincing.

In chapter two, Blomberg describes the development of the canon. He answers the charges of those who claim it was politically motivated quite successfully. He shows how "the most fanciful and unorthodox documents do not emerge until the third through fifth centuries" (44). In addition, he shows how the canonical New Testament were the earliest Christian writings. He notes, "Good arguments, adopted by a wide swath of liberal and conservative scholars alike, date all of the books accepted into the New Testament to the First Century or, in the case of one or two books, perhaps to the very earliest years of the second century" (44). So the Gnostic Gospels come much later than the Orthodox writings. The rest of the chapters shows the process of the recognition of the canonical writings.

In chapter three Blomberg shows how most of the Bible translations are trustworthy. He describes the different theories of Bible Translations. Some attempt for a more word-to-word literal translation; other attempt for more clarity in the English language. He believes most translations are in the middle of these two points seeking both for faithful to the text and clarity in the receiving language. He believes any of the following translations are reliable: NIV, NASB, NAB, ESV, NRSV, and others. He seems to favor the NIV. In another section of the chapter he discusses the gender wars on inclusive language. Blomberg does a good job in showing the strengths of different translations.

In chapter four he addresses the subject of inerrancy. He likes the definition provided by Paul Feinberg: "Inerrancy means that when all the 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" (123). Blomberg thinks some like Norman Geisler draws the innerancy boundaries too tight, and use it as a bully whip to make them conform or to have them removed from societies or teaching position. This is something I especially about Blomberg's work. He shows intellectual charity to those who disagree with him. In each of the issues he presents multiple options that evangelicals or inerrantists can take on the issue. This spirit shown by Blomberg makes this a compelling book.

The last two chapters answers the questions: "Aren't several narrative genres of the Bible unhistorical? and "Don't all the miracles make the Bible mythical?. Blomberg does a good job in addressing these topics. Blomberg will probably receive the most heat from positions he takes in chapter five. This will come from the people who believe in a young earth. He asks the question: "Does belief in biblical inerrancy commit one to believing in the creation of the universe only six thousand years ago?' (150). He notes how even Young Earth Creationists believe the earth is ten thousand years old. He gives different options for interpreting Genesis one. He states, "Believers in inerrancy have in fact held to a wide variety of positions on Genesis 1, all of which are in keeping with a much older earth, as the vast majority of all scientific investigation suggests" (151). He adds, "Evangelical interpreters should be free to debate the respective strengths and weaknesses of all these suggestions and adopt whichever they find most historically and exegetically compelling" (151). Other key tests he examines are Jonah, Genesis 2-3, The Book of Job, Isaiah, Daniel, and others. Blomberg thinks there is "good, well-argued scholarship for the historical reliability of most of the narrative portions of scripture (i.e., those that are written in a form that they intend to narrate history). . . . Not all writings of a narrative genre intend to record history; we need to treat each on a case-by-case basis" (176). An example would be the parables of Jesus. They are stories to teach a spiritual truth. In addition, Blomberg notes, "The truth claims of the Bible, appropriately cherished by inerrantists, can never be determined apart from our best assessment of the literary forms and genre involved" (177-178).

The last chapter discusses whether we can believe the Bible when it reports individuals doing miracles in the Bible. The greatest miracle of all is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The whole basis of Christianity is founded on this event. Blomberg takes a middle position between two extremes: we need to believe every report of a miracle and God no longer does miracles. He refers to Craig Keener's work on miracles regularly in this chapter. Blomberg shows how miracles fit the background of the stories being narrated in the Bible. It was also in the Old Testament to prove that God was the only God. Blomberg also narrates how family members have experience miraculous healing.

Can We Still Believe the Bible? by Craig Blomberg is a well-researched book on the reasons why we can still believe in the reliability of the Bible. It is well-written and a high school student to a graduate student should have no trouble reading it. All his citations are put in the endnotes to keep it from being a distraction from the main text. These notes are over thirty pages. This book is highly recommended to all readers who are interested in the subject.

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