Review: “Can We Still Believe the Bible?” by Craig Blomberg

NOTE: This is adapted from an essay I wrote for seminary.

Introduction

Craig Blomberg’s Can We Still Believe the Bible? is an excellent, invaluable and erudite resource for evangelical Christians trying to articulate their faith in the 21st century. The scope of biblical studies is a vast and ambitious undertaking, yet Blomberg’s work is a worthy introduction to the field. The following review includes some insights that we can glean from his writing.

Why Does It All Matter?

There are many objections to the Christian faith that have been posed by skeptics of all stripes and persuasions—agnostic, atheist, Muslim, or otherwise. These can range from the question of suffering to ethics, and beyond. But as Blomberg notes in his introduction, this book is about none of those topics[1]. Rather, he has chosen to limit his study to the reliability of the biblical canon. For our purposes at present, we have been tasked with the particular question, “What would be at stake if the New Testament was not reliable?”. My automatic answer would be, “everything.”

As Blomberg alluded to in his text, much of liberal Protestant scholarship (such as that of Bultmann and the Jesus Seminar) had been imbibed with the notion that as long as you can extract moral principles from the Bible, its historical truth claims are irrelevant[2]. However, that is not the case. Unlike many other religions (which are simply dependent on moral imperatives to abide by in life), the Christian faith hinges on a historical event: the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without that contention, Christianity is rendered inert. As Paul so blatantly puts it in 1 Corinthians 15:14, “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”

Christianity depends on the idea that God has broken into history. The resurrection of Jesus Christ has huge implications for our Christian witness. As many others have noted before, the gospel means “good news”, and thus our faith is the proclamation of that good news. If none of this had ever happened, we would have nothing to proclaim, nothing to report, and nothing to believe in. Yet because we can rely on the New Testament accounts, we do have something to proclaim. And because of the resurrection in particular, we have cause to proclaim it boldly and without fear. Thankfully, Blomberg addresses the reliability of the New Testament witness in the six chapters of his book—particularly in chapters 1 and 2, and to a lesser extent chapter 6—which we will turn to next.

Addressing Common Objections

In his book, Blomberg addresses six common questions that are often levelled at Christians concerning the reliability of our sacred text. These are 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 translation of the Bible?”, 4) “Don’t these issues rule out biblical inerrancy?”, 5) “Aren’t several narrative genres of the Bible unhistorical?”, and finally, 6) “Don’t all the miracles make the Bible mythical?”. Blomberg devotes a chapter to each of these objections, and navigates them deftly with some nuance that might come as an unexpected surprise by skeptics. Space prohibits me from being able to represent each argument justly, so I will choose instead to highlight certain topics above others.

Starting right at chapter 1 (“Aren’t Copies of the Bible Hopelessly Corrupt?”), Blomberg takes skeptics as esteemed as Bart Ehrman to task by addressing these issues. Blomberg, without so much as an eye-blink, readily and unflinchingly acknowledges Ehrman’s claim that there are up to 400,000 variants among the ancient biblical manuscripts that we have found.[3] Unlike Ehrman, however, Blomberg contends that that is not nearly as problematic as it may sound at face value to the untrained eye. He points to scholarship that shows that these variants are spread out across 25,000 manuscripts (which, by the way, are far more manuscripts than any other ancient text that has been preserved and recovered), thus limiting these supposedly indicting “variants” to 8-16 variants per manuscript, on average. Furthermore, he notes that these variants are not “spread evenly” across the manuscripts, but are clustered around certain passages that seem to invite some sense of ambiguity. He writes, “Paul Wegner estimates that only 6 percent of the New Testament and 10 percent of the Old Testament contain the vast majority of these clusters.”[4] If we are to focus on the New Testament alone, which is the prompt of this review, then all of a sudden the evidence against the Bible looks far less convincing and intimidating than what Ehrman would have us believe.

Another objection that skeptics level at Christianity is the supposedly corrupt compilation of the final biblical canon. This notion was highlighted at the popular level by novelists such as Dan Brown, who thought it fit to use such ideas in works such as “The Da Vinci Code”. Against such popularized notions, Blomberg demonstrates that the criteria for inclusion into the canon were very stringent and high.[5] Namely, these included apostolicity, catholicity, orthodoxy, and connection to the Hebrew scriptures. Apostolicity referred to the writing’s connection to the apostolic witness. Blomberg writes, “No book, moreover, is more than one person removed from an apostle or an authoritative eyewitness of the life of Jesus.”[6] Catholicity referred to the widespread use of a book or letter among the early church, and whether it was largely accepted to be apostolic teaching by the earliest Christians (there is a large degree of consensus among early Christians). Orthodoxy referred to the content of the apostolic teaching. Apostolic tradition was already firmly well-established and attested very early on in the church, grounded by things such as the regula fidei (or “rule of faith”, which Blomberg does not directly reference in his work). Those writings that fell outside the realm of orthodoxy, such as gnostic texts, were readily dismissed. Blomberg devotes much space in the chapter addressing gnostic texts in particular. Only the Gospel of Thomas was ever briefly considered for canonization, and apparently not very seriously.[7]

Finally, Blomberg addresses the question, “Don’t all the miracles make the Bible mythical?”. As a side note, I myself would like to point out that this contention is not so widely entertained as it was a generation ago—or even a couple of decades ago. The current cultural milieu of postmodernism has humbled the modernist psyche away from the triumphalist and arrogant notion that there is a “natural” cause for everything just within arm’s reach of scientific inquiry, given enough time and technology. Today people are much more open to the idea of the supernatural. Nevertheless, this tired question is still brought up in certain levels of academia. To this, Blomberg points out that the witness to New Testament miracles are well attested, and that there is a scholarly bias toward the NT accounts that would not cast the same suspicion on other ancient witnesses[8]. Blomberg writes, “Miracles should not be excluded a priori from historical research. Neither science nor philosophy gives us valid reasons for doing so.”[9] For those that point to similarities of Jesus’ miracles to that of other ancient religions, Blomberg points out that the vast majority of these instances are post-Christian in origin.

Application to Ministry

The last question we are posed with is, “What is the significance of this issue for your own faith and ministry?”. In a sense, I would argue that it is significant for everyone’s faith and ministry. As I pointed out at the beginning, the New Testament accounts of Jesus—his life, death, and resurrection—are crucial and central to our faith. Without them, we would have nothing to believe in and nothing to preach. As Paul put it, they are “of the utmost importance” (1 Corinthians 15:3).

At the same time, addressing these issues and questions are more important in some context than others. For example, in places like the Bible-belt, the historicity of the gospel accounts are taken for granted. In contrast, in more urban and metropolitan areas where there tends to be a higher degree of diversity of belief, these questions are much more commonplace. In the West (Europe and North America), secularization has loomed over some of the largest cities such that it is not uncommon to hear skeptical attitudes towards Christianity. The latter is much more the context and environment that I have found myself doing ministry in. I work in a church and parachurch ministry located in the middle of a large state university, where questions and skepticism towards Christian faith abound. In my context much more than others, it is imperative that I address rather than ignore these concerns if I am to be a faithful witness to Jesus Christ. According to his own testimony, Craig Blomberg did not run away from these questions that he encountered in college, and I believe this is why he is able to answer them so skillfully. May God grant me (and all of us) the ability to do the same.


[1] Blomberg, Craig L. Can We Still Believe the Bible?: An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Questions. (Brazos Press, 2014), 4

[2] Blomberg, Can We Still Believe, 7

[3] Blomberg, Can We Still Believe, 16-17

[4] Ibid. 17

[5] Ibid. 58-64

[6] Ibid. 58

[7] Ibid. 74

[8] Ibid. 179-180

[9] Ibid. 211

Bibliography

Blomberg, Craig L. Can We Still Believe the Bible?: An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Questions. Brazos Press, 2014.

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