Craig Bloomberg’s The Historical Reliability of the New Testament: Countering the Challenges to Evangelical Christian Beliefs is a masterful account of over 800 pages devoted solely to establishing the historical reliability of the entire New Testament. The book itself divides into six parts — covering the Synoptic Gospels, the Gospel of John, Acts and Paul, the rest of the NT, canonicity and transmission, and the problem of miracles. The first four parts of the book are what you might expect. Blomberg takes contentious historical issues throughout the canon (such as differences between Synoptic accounts, the time of Jesus’ death in John, etc.) and hashes them out, one by one, detail by detail. He interacts with major theses and works that have argued them, while omitting the plethora of minor studies that have taken on the subjects, for the sake of space. His detail, while still being oriented toward a clear goal, makes this one of the most important contributions to the field of New Testament studies in 2016.
The last two parts of the book, though, are somewhat unique and a delightful bonus.
Part five, on canonicity and transmission, covers the New Testament apocrypha, the Nag Hammadi documents, and also some of the more recent finds that have generated discussion in the past few decades. These include the Gospel of Judas, the Jesus’ wife fragment, the Secret Gospel of Mark, as well as the ancient agrapha. Blomberg moves through the evidence and the history of these documents’ research, publication, and controversy with ease, making it a pleasure to learn about them. The rest of part five covers textual criticism and issues of the formation of the New Testament canon. That makes part five the best singular source in dealing with the issues of canonicity and transmission of the New Testament of which I’m aware, and one of the reasons Bloomberg’s book will become one of my go-to textbooks for introductory New Testament courses.
Part six was my only disappointment with the text. Here, Bloomberg deals with the problem of miracles, covering scientific and philosophical problems, criteria for authenticity, different types of miracles, and a useful twenty pages on the resurrection, and engages some significant thinkers — like Lüdemann, Crossan, Horsley, and Borg. But in all, this section felt more like a tag-on and lacked a good deal of the specificity I’d enjoyed earlier in the book.
Make no doubt about it, though, The Historical Reliability of the New Testament is an essential resource for pastors, teachers and students. I’m still not in agreement with Bloomberg’s interpretation of Revelation, so there are places I could quibble with what he’s written. But that doesn’t diminish the importance of the book as an excellent primer and resource for pastors.
I received a free copy of this book from B&H Academic Publishers in exchange for my honest review here.