Monday, August 13, 2012
Review of "Historical Reliability of John's Gospel"
John's Gospel has come under attack for years. When one compares it to the synoptics, it is obvious to see the differences. John seems to write with a more theological than historical bent. John records many unique stories, only found in his gospel. The end result is that the fourth gospel is often discarded in scholarly discussions. For instance, the Jesus Seminar has largely rejected John, stating that it is made up of false stories.
Craig Blomberg seeks to establish the historical reliability of the Gospel of John in his book, The Historical Reliability of John's Gospel. Blomberg is well qualified to do this, being an expert in gospel literature and having also penned, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. Blomberg's work here is unique because it functions as a commentary that focuses almost exclusively on defending the reliability of what John has written. One will not find an in-depth exegesis of any one given passage. Rather, one will find a series of tight, logical arguments that favor trusting what John has written.
The work itself is somewhat tedious after awhile--not because Blomberg is a bad author but because most of the attacks on John from liberal scholarship follow the same basic arguments. For instance, many liberal scholars reject the possibility of miracles a priori because it goes against a naturalistic worldview. Blomberg has to continually refute that very idea throughout the entire Gospel. In essence, whenever a miracle occurs, Blomberg addresses the critics in virtually the same way. Again, this isn't a shortcoming on Blomberg's part. Rather, it is a testament to how shallow much of the recent criticism of John's Gospel actually is.
At times it feels as if Blomberg sacrifices too much for the sake of scholarship. For instance, when dealing with the arrest of Jesus in John 18, he argues that when Jesus said, "I am," the shock of the statement caused the soldiers to stumble on the uneven ground and since they were likely walking close together, many fell. Blomberg then argues that John saw the irony in this and interpreted it as such. While I understand he is attempting to defend the Bible from historical critics, I think that his argument here does more to discredit his own position. If John has interpreted natural causes as being divine here, what prevents us from using that same argument throughout the rest of John's Gospel. Perhaps John was over-interpreting purely naturalistic events. Again, I don't think Blomberg's position here is totally discredited; it just seems to be undermined a bit. It also makes one wonder if it is always helpful to try to defend an event based on purely naturalistic causes. I think it is wiser to simply state John records that when Jesus spoke, the men fell at his power. Whether it is historical cannot be discerned. It seems disingenuous to John, however, to try to interpret the event as caused by a purely naturalistic sequence of events.
Overall, however, this book is excellent. It deals effectively with major and minor criticisms of John's Gospel. The bibliography is exhaustive and Blomberg clearly knows his stuff. Pastors and seminary students will likely find in this work reassurance and joy that the Gospel of John can still stand strong after the smoke from the attacks has cleared.
*Thanks to IVP for providing a review copy of this work in exchange for a fair review.*