Bloomberg, C.L. Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction and Survey.
Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997.
Blomberg, professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary in Colorado is also the author of Interpreting the Parables and The Historical Reliability and several articles in renowned journals (for instance “The Seventy-four Scholars: Who Does the Jesus Seminar Really Speak For? In Christian Research Journal. In the text under review, he discusses the historical reliability of the gospels punctuating it with the theology of Jesus. An assessment of the five parts of the book shows that anyone desirous of seriously studying the Gospels and their central figure, Jesus of Nazareth, must become acquainted with the history of the time and work of scholars engaged in New Testament research.
In Part One, Blomberg discusses the historical background for studying the Gospels. He realistically begins with an overview of the intertestamental period (the last quarter of the fifth century B.C., to the first century A.D.) highlighting the contributions of Josephus’ Jewish Antiquities and Jewish War, and other writings such as the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha. Blomberg’s forceful argument is that key developments such as the Jews under Persian rule (CA. 424-331 B.C.), Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic Period (331-167 B.C.), Greek rule under Alexander (331-323 B.C.), Egyptian rule under the Ptolemies (323-198 B.C.), Syrian rule under the Seleucids (198-167 B.C.), the Maccabean revolt and the Hasmonean dynasty (167063 B.C.), the Roman period (63 B.C. through the New Testament era), must be studied to correctly interpret the situation of the Jews in the time of Jesus. In the religious realm, the Jews were exposed to beliefs like Hellenistic religion, traditional mythology, philosophies like Stoicism, Epicureanism, Cynicism and Neo-Pythagoreanism, mystery religions, Gnosticism and Emperor worship. The overview of the socio-economic background helps us read the Gospels better.
The second part is a relevant study of several critical or analytical tools used by scholars to aid in their understanding of how the Gospels appeared in their present form. These include lower or textual criticism and higher criticism, which is further divided into two broad disciplines: historical criticism and literary criticism. His discussion of structuralism, post structuralism, narrative, source, form, redaction and canon criticisms is impressive. When critically analyzed, one can conclude after the survey that there is a legitimate place for historical, theological and literary study of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. One may overlook dimensions of the texts and misinterpret them if they are not studied together.
The Canonical Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) are introduced in the third chapter. Among issues discussed in each book are structure, theology and other distinctive themes, circumstances or purpose of writing and dating. A careful study of the first three Gospels or Synoptics (Matthew, Mark and Luke) reveals a fundamental difference with John. Jesus’ baptism, Transfiguration, parables, Lord’s Supper, to name a few, are central to the Synoptics that are absent in John. Furthermore, there are also some prominent theological differences. Although the background and significance of the logos have been continuously debated, only John refers to Jesus as ‘the Word’ (Greek, logos). Blomberg’s study of the gospels is impressive. In his discussion of the Sermon on the Mount for instance, he observes that there are about thirty six approaches of interpreting its fundamental message and clearly summarizes eight including the traditional Catholic, Lutheran, Anabaptist, old liberal and postmilliennial, interim ethic, existentialist, classic dispensationalist and kingdom theology. His assessment is that although each carries an element of truth, the last seemed to have captured the right approach much fully.
Blomberg surveys the life of Christ in part four paying close attention to His birth, childhood, early and later ministries, additional teachings of Jesus in Matthew, Luke and John, passion, crucifixion and resurrection. He clearly presents the trend of emphasizing on the sayings of Jesus by the Jesus Seminar, which is creditably critiqued. A credit to Blomberg therefore is his conscious desire to keep history and theology in balance.
He successfully attempts a historical and theological synthesis as he discusses the historical trustworthiness of the gospels and the theology of Jesus in part five. He reasonably discusses textual criticism, authorship and date, intention and genre, criteria of authenticity and specific external evidence. The contributions of archaeology, non-Christian workers, post-New Testament Christian writers and the testimony of the rest of the New Testament cannot be underestimated. A careful study of Blomberg’s ultimate chapter on the theology of the Jesus is necessary in understanding His actions, use and response to various Christological titles, most notably Son of Man, Son of God, Lord and Messiah. Other major strengths include his leading questions that help focus one’s reading. These questions for review help the reader to think through the contemporary relevance of the New Testament writings. The numerous illustrations are user friendly. The theological perspective is evangelical but other positions are frequently noted and suggestions for further reading include literature from different persuasions. Section headings make it easy to follow the structure of the text.
A weakness could be that Blomberg fails to discuss in length the contribution of Paul’s understanding of Christ’s redemptive death, which he cited. The above notwithstanding, Blomberg aptly notes that although key themes in Paul’s theology may superficially seem to be different from Jesus’ own thought, they also suggest stronger lines of continuity.
I strongly recommend this relevant book to theological students, lay-persons who desire to deepen their biblical roots, and pastors and scholars searching for a current summary of the state of a wide swath of scholarship in the Gospels.