Review: From Pentecost to Patmos, 2nd Edition

From Pentecost to Patmos, Second Edition, Craig L. Blomberg and Darlene M. Seal with Alicia S. Dupree. Nashville: B & H Academic, 2021.

Summary: A New Testament Introduction covering Acts through Revelation, with introductory material and commentary, review questions and bibliography for each book, useful as a textbook or reference.

Some of the introductory New Testament texts for college or seminary that I have read are dense and turgid reads. Not this new edition in which Craig L. Blomberg and Darlene M. Seal combine up to date scholarship with a highly readable text. The text for each book of scripture includes some of the standard introduction sections including discussions of authorship, date, audience, purpose, genre, and structure. Where relevant, as in Acts, material on textual criticism, sources, and chronology vis a vis Paul are included. A commentary summarizing the text and dealing with textual and interpretive questions follows organized on the basis of the structure provided. Review questions are included for students as well as concluding applications. A select bibliography offers recommendations of advanced, intermediate, and introductory commentaries, as well as other relevant scholarly works on the book in question.

A fifty-eight page introductory article to the Pauline epistles is also included. The first portion covers the life of Paul including the question of the nature of the Damascus road encounter–conversion, call, or commission–or perhaps all three? Then the authors turn to epistolary writing, uses of rhetoric, genres, literary forms, their occasional nature, and the mechanics of letter writing. This part includes with questions about pseudonymity (they judge this lacking acceptance in the first century) and the collection and canonization of Paul’s epistles. They then turn to Paul’s theology, summarizing contemporary discussions of the New Perspective, the question of Paul and Jesus, Paul and the Old Testament and recent scholarship seeing apocalyptic and empire themes in Paul. I thought this an excellent, succinct discussion of Pauline scholarship with all the key figures appearing in the bibliography.

A few highlights of the authors’ discussion of various books may give a flavor of this introduction:

  • While noting the boundary marker treatment of “works of the law” they see a more general reference to Torah-obedience, and justification referring to imputed righteousness–though relational and transformative rather than “impersonal and transactional.”
  • They argue for the unity of 2 Corinthians (an A-B-A structure) with a lost letter between it and 1 Corinthians.
  • They foresee a large scale turning of Jews to Christ foretold in Romans 11 but that this does not require repatriation.
  • They favor the Pauline authorship of Ephesians, with Paul giving an amanuensis greater liberty in writing within directions on topics to address, and that the letter was likely intended to be a circular letter.
  • They survey the discussion of the authorship of the pastorals, often thought to be pseudonymous works. They go with the unanimity of the church fathers and attribute these to Paul, allowing for an amanuensis, perhaps Luke, to account for the stylistic differences.
  • On 1 Timothy 2:11-15, they offer a helpful chart of the interpretive decisions involved in this passage. They do not commit to a view, suggesting the need to hold views tentatively. They propose that even within more traditional interpretations, there are not constraints on women serving on pastoral teams or as part of church leadership. This seems like an attempt to find a via media between complementarian and egalitarian position with a complementarian flavor that will probably satisfy few.
  • I found the outline of James structuring it around three iterations of three key themes quite helpful: trials in the Christian life, wisdom, and riches and poverty. Similarly, seeing Hebrews structured around five warnings was a rubric that seems to arise from the text.
  • Perhaps the most difficult book to square with traditional claims of authorship is 2 Peter, which much of modern scholarship considers late, and pseudonymous, noting the dependence on Jude, and significant stylistic differences. They note the claim of the author to have witnessed the transfiguration, that the stylistic differences argue against pseudonymity, that Symeon Petros in 1:1 is elsewhere used only in Acts 15:14 and sounds like a signature.
  • The treatment of Revelation takes a premillenial, though not dispensational reading.

Overall, the approach is theologically conservative and evangelical, though nuanced and appreciative of other scholarship. Reflective of the publisher, it seems its target audience would be Baptists schools and seminaries and educated pastors and laity. Yet the engagement with other scholarship and views makes it representative of the best of this tradition. It is an introduction where a committed evangelical is able to read with, rather than against, the grain of one’s convictions as it were, while being introduced to the range of scholarship. And as observed earlier, one of the great strengths of this work is the readable, flowing text that one needn’t fight with to understand. It’s greatest challenge comes in the trenchant applications that question how one will live and act on truth outside the study and classroom.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Can We Still Believe the Bible?

Can we still believe the Bible

Summary: an apologetic work on biblical scholarship refuting current “debunkers” of the Bible

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.