There is a cottage industry that has developed around “debunking” the Bible. It goes something like this:
- The Bible we have is hopelessly corrupted, having been copied and re-copied and this is evident in the numerous discrepancies in the extant manuscripts.
- The Bible we have was the result of a political power move that suppressed other books that proclaimed a different, more “gnostic” Christianity. Finally these books are getting the attention they deserve.
- With so many translations of the Bible, how can we trust any of them?
- Given all these issues and various apparent discrepancies, can we possibly believe in an inerrant Bible?
- Some of the passages of scripture that purport to be narrative history are either unhistorical or plain fiction.
- Then there are all those miracles, similar to those in other mythical books. Isn’t the Bible simply another mythical work?
Clothed in the authority of “biblical scholarship” these contentions insinuate doubt in the minds of many believing people who base their beliefs and the way they live on what they find in these scriptures.
Craig Blomberg, an accomplished Biblical scholar answers each of these contentions, arguing that such contentions distort the evidence of biblical scholarship, concluding with a resounding “yes” to the question in this book’s title.
For example, he argues that the manuscript evidence actually argues for the high probability that the text of the scripture we have is very close to what was written. Discrepancies between manuscripts don’t affect any fundamental teaching of Christian faith and most are simply minor copying errors.
Those supposedly “suppressed” books? They were known but never enjoyed the significant level of support from various church communities as did most of the canonical books. Also, the books that are being argued for typically were written a century or more later (with the exception of the Gospel of Thomas) than the canonical works.
All those translations? Actually, the standard versions all reflect the careful work of translation committees and actually read remarkably similarly. Except for those originating in sectarian groups, any of these can be profitably read. The main difference in translations tends to be around differing approaches that either focus more on word for word translation of more for accuracy of meaning in the language of the translation.
Most interesting are the next two chapters discussing whether it is possible to hold to a position of inerrancy and whether some “narratives” are unhistorical and what this means for our ideas of inerrancy. And here, Blomberg becomes more explicit about the reality that he is not simply arguing for a believable Bible against the debunkers, but also that it is possible to affirm inerrancy without dismissing serious scholarly claims and questions–for example about the possibility that Job may not be historical (Blomberg does not contend this but allows that those who hold this are not denying inerrancy). Blomberg thinks these rigid positions (far more rigid than the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy which Blomberg uses as a benchmark) are in fact harmful to evangelicalism in creating the kind of “all or nothing” stance that leads those who can’t affirm all to go to the other extreme of affirming nothing (as he thinks has happened to scholars like Bart Ehrman).
His last chapter focuses on miracles. He sees the biblical accounts differing from others in not being sensational but rather confirming the power of God over “the gods” and confirming the messianic character of Christ and his people and encouraging belief. Of course the paramount miracle central to all is the resurrection.
It was something of a surprise that Blomberg would defend the language of inerrancy. He is one of the few scholars of late who tries to argue inerrancy while engaging critical scholarship. This is tougher to do because it begs the question of apparent errors that other approaches around the terms infallible or trustworthy have to deal with only by implication. I actually found this, particularly as Blomberg framed it, refreshing.
This book is most useful for the student or thoughtful Christian who encounters these debunking efforts, and for apologists in providing the basic outlines of a response based in good, if evangelically based, scholarship. For those who wish to go further, the notes provide extensive additional scholarly sources.
I suspect that Blomberg will be dismissed by more liberal scholarship and attacked by conservatives. I admire his willingness to let the chips fall where they may in this effort to provide a thoughtful work for those facing the debunkers’ challenges. He models an approach that embraces both orthodoxy and engaged biblical scholarship.