Sunday 21 December 2008

Craig L. Blomberg on Making Sense of the New Testament

[I wrote the following brief review back in 2004, though I’m not sure whether it was ever published anywhere.]

Craig L. Blomberg, Making Sense of the New Testament: Three Crucial Questions (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 189pp., ISBN 0801027470.

This forms a companion volume to Tremper Longman’s Making Sense of the Old Testament (reviewed here), and is part of Baker’s ‘Three Crucial Questions’ series. The three questions in this case are related to (1) the historical reliability of the New Testament (particularly, though not exclusively, traditions about Jesus), (2) the relationship of Paul to Jesus, and (3) the application of the New Testament to contemporary life.

The chapter on ‘Is the New Testament historically reliable?’ takes in the Jesus Seminar and Third Quest. Blomberg provides an accessible synthesis of contemporary scholarship, including his own fuller works in the same area.

Under ‘Was Paul the true founder of Christianity?’, Blomberg outlines Paul’s knowledge of Jesus’ teaching and elements of the gospel tradition, and considers six theological similarities between Jesus and Paul: justification by faith and the kingdom of God; the role of the law; the Gentile mission and the church; the role of women; christology; eschatology. Paul was not the true founder of Christianity, but built on the tradition received from the apostles and his encounter with the risen Christ. There are differences between Jesus and Paul, but the similarities are greater than often suggested.

With the third question, ‘How is the Christian to apply the New Testament to life?’, Blomberg explores principles for legitimate application of biblical texts. Much of this is devoted to the major genres of the New Testament along with their specific features and issues of interpretation and application raised, but Blomberg also deals with the thorny issue of what is normative and transcends culture and time against what is culturally-specific to the New Testament.

All told, the book carries the inevitable positives and negatives that goes with offering a brief treatment of its disputed areas. While sceptics are not likely to be persuaded by the arguments, those already convinced will enjoy it and will doubtless find it to be a useful resource.

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