Book Review

Can We Still Believe the Bible? An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Questions By Craig L. Blomberg

John J. Bombaro
Craig Blomberg
Wednesday, July 1st 2015
Jul/Aug 2015

In the introduction to Can We Still Believe the Bible? Craig Blomberg lays out his agenda for the chapters that follow: “The six areas of scholarship that this book presents ‘¦ debunk widespread misconceptions about what [twenty-first-century] belief [in the Bible] entails, and they present exciting recent developments in scholarly arenas that are not nearly as well known or understood as they should be” (12). As such, it is a welcome contribution from a respected author and noted New Testament authority.

Blomberg evidences firsthand familiarity and, indeed, involvement with contemporary disputes regarding the Bible, especially within the evangelical community. His knowledge of the players and arguments is nearly encyclopedic and strikes a personal chord for him on several occasions within this book.

Of foremost concern to the author is addressing media darling Bart Ehrman’s sensational claims about the unreliability of the New Testament documents and their supposedly confected contents. Thus the issue of textual criticism constitutes the substance of Blomberg’s first and best chapter. In it he avers that, whereas the vast majority of scholars recognize that the academy is in a better position than ever to reconstruct with high fidelity the most likely wording of the original writings of the biblical authors, Ehrman postures as if the manuscript corpus is a hot mess, and he does so by exaggerating the importance of textual variants and their numbers. Blomberg retorts by breaking down the data and showing just how “ordinary and uninteresting are the vast majority of textual variants” (24). Not only are Ehrman’s fraudulent claims exposed as purposeful misdirection by Blomberg’s thorough delineation of the relevant manuscripts, but also by Ehrman’s own damning concession: “Essential Christian beliefs are not affected by textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament” (28). The contents of this chapter alone are worth the price of the book.

Chapter 2 responds to the question, “Wasn’t the Selection of Books for the Canon Just Political?” Blomberg’s next best chapter guides the reader through the canon debate, treating issues of canonicity, the Apocrypha, and Gnostic texts, while avoiding the extremes of ultraconservatives and theological liberals by making too much or too little of the criteria for canonization and the canon process itself.

Less interesting for me are the third and fourth chapters on Bible translations and biblical inerrancy. The former chapter can seem like a grousing match within evangelical enclaves where blows are traded over which translation trumps which’KJV or ESV, NRSV, or ESV. The latter chapter defends inerrancy as codified in the 1978 Chicago Statement without adding any particularly new arguments to respond to more recent critics such as Christian Smith.

In chapter 5, “Aren’t Several Narrative Genres of the Bible Unhistorical?” Blomberg returns to form by explaining and applying the standard grammatical-historical hermeneutic and narrative applications for interpreting Scripture. Such an approach turns out to be both refreshingly learned and liberating for many evangelical interpreters, who stand in constant need of being disabused by fellow evangelicals from their all-too-familiar literalist interpretations of all-too-familiar biblical texts. Blomberg is to be applauded for exposing evangelicals to a wider variety of plausible interpretations, usually with greater catholic consensus and antiquity.

The last chapter treating miracles and the mythologizing of the Bible rehearses oft-repeated apologies for miracles, but it also offers a cogent intertestamental and post-canonical explanation regarding the meaning and use of miracles. Additionally, Blomberg gives biographical testimony about his own experience of the miraculous as antidotal affirmation for his belief in God’s current activity in the personal lives of believers.

While there are several valuable chapters in this tome that are decidedly outward looking in their address and useful for pastors, students, and lay leaders (particularly chapters 1, 2, and 5), the other chapters (along with their endnotes) gravitate strongly toward in-house evangelical discussions or, perhaps better to say, rumpus. On not a few occasions, Blomberg can be found defending his methodology and holdings against the unwarranted attacks of Norman Geisler and F. David Farnell. A Brazos imprint seems a ponderous place to engage in Evangelical Philosophical Society blood sport, which comes off as an unnecessary distraction.

Another unwelcome component is the publisher’s decision to produce nearly fifty pages of germane polemical annotation through cumbersome double-column endnotes instead of convenient footnotes, resulting in a needlessly fragmented reading experience.

Notwithstanding these minor objections, Blomberg is effective in his main task: namely, to assert the ability of scholars to reconstruct the original texts of the biblical books in a fashion greater than any other documents of antiquity; to substantiate agreement on the New Testament canon among the major branches of Christianity; and to demonstrate the essential reliability of our modern-language translations. For this, Can We Still Believe the Bible? will prove useful to evangelicals of all stripes.

Wednesday, July 1st 2015

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