Friday, January 20, 2012

Read Along: Christian Apologetics Ch19

Today we continue with chapter nineteen of Read Along with Apologetics315, a weekly chapter-by-chapter study through Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Christianity by Douglas Groothuis. Please leave a comment on your reading below. This is where you can interact with others reading the book, ask questions, or add your own thoughts. Series index here. Click below for the audio intro, chapter 19 study questions PDF, and summary:

[Audio Intro] - Dr. Groothuis introduces this chapter.
[Chapter 19 Study Questions] (with kindle locations) - PDF study guide.
[Podcast Feed RSS | Podcast in iTunes] - Click to subscribe to the audio.

Chapter Nineteen: Jesus of Nazareth: How Historians Can Know Him and Why It Matters
(pages 438-474)

Chapter nineteen is written by Craig Blomberg, Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary. Blomberg's contribution makes a case for the reliability of the Gospel accounts, which are able to provide an accurate portrait of historical Jesus. He explains the historical sources that are available, shows what they contribute to the portrait, and how historians evaluate these sources for credibility.

Blomberg compares the Synoptic Gospels with the Gospel of John, noting differences and similarities. He explores authorship and date, literary genre, authorial intent, compositional procedures, and apparent contradictions. In addition, Blomberg takes a look at texts such as the so-called Gnostic Gospels, and other non-canonical gospels, comparing their content to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Finally, Blomberg discusses the formation of the cano, translation issues, and how historians deal with supernatural events.

Notable quotes:
An inordinate number of websites and blogs make the wholly unjustified claim that Jesus never existed. Biblical scholars and historians who have investigated this issue in detail are virtually unanimous today in rejecting this view, regardless of their theological or ideological perspectives. (Craig Blomberg, in Christian Apologetics, p. 439)  
In sum, we may affirm that the Synoptic Gospel writers would have wanted to preserve accurate history according to the standards of their day, that they had every likelihood of being able to do so, and that the overall pattern of widespread agreement on the essential contours of Jesus' life and ministry coupled with enough variation of detail to demonstrate at least some independent sources and tradents on which each drew makes it very probable that they did in fact compose trustworthy historical and biographical documents. Certainly no insoluble contradictions appear. (Craig Blomberg, in Christian Apologetics, p. 456)  
If the canonical Gospels remain our only source for more than just a barebones outline of the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth as a truly human figure, and if there are good reasons on sheer historical grounds apart from any religious faith to accept the main contours of their portraits of Jesus as historically trustworthy, then the "step of faith" involved in acknowledging Jesus as Lord and Savior and committing one's life in allegiance to him becomes the most reasonable response a person can make to his ministry. (Craig Blomberg, in Christian Apologetics, p. 473)   
  1. Do you observe and prejudices or double-standards when historians assess the Gospels?
  2. Why are the canonical Gospels the best sources of information for the historical Jesus?
  3. Does the inclusion of miracles and supernatural events present a stumbling block to our historical assessment of the New Testament Gospels?
Next week
Chapter Twenty: The Claims, Credentials and Achievements of Jesus Christ


Vicki McGrew said...

The historical argument is one of my favorite areas of study, and I really enjoyed working through this chapter. I respect Blomberg’s approach to establishing the reliability of the Gospels. He argues that even if you take a more liberal approach as to the authorship and dating of the Gospels, you can still make a good case that they are trustworthy in what we can know about Jesus. However, I tend to hold a more conservative view of the Gospels, that is, that they were each written by the person to whom they are attributed.

Why should we doubt the testimonies of the Church Fathers? They were in a position to know who wrote the Gospels. For example, Irenaeus (bishop of Lyons, France around 175 A.D.) very clearly stated in his writings that there were four (and only four) Gospels acknowledged at this time, and he stated that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John wrote them. Irenaeus was a disciple of Polycarp who knew the Apostle John. This is a very significant unbroken chain of testimony, and this method is usually good enough to determine the authors of ancient secular works. Read William Paley’s Evidences of Christianity (Chapter IX) for an excellent defense of the authorship and dating of the Gospels.

To admit that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were the authors of the Gospels makes a stronger case for the credibility of the miracles in these accounts since these men were either eyewitnesses to them or close companions of the eyewitnesses. Perhaps the doubting of these men as the authors has more to do with worldview than anything? If a person does not believe that miracles can occur, then the Gospels become more difficult to explain if they are indeed eyewitness testimony. However, if they are the result of oral tradition with a kernel of history, there is some wiggle room, so to speak, to say that the miracles were merely added in to the Gospels but didn’t really happen.

Brian said...

Thanks for your comments, Vicki.

I didn't get the impression that Blomberg was holding to a view that doubted the view of the traditional authorship of the Gospels. If I remember correctly, he was simply saying that even if you take the more liberal view of the authors being those other than M,M,L & J, that the integrity of the accounts is not damaged.

Vicki McGrew said...

Thanks for the clarification Brian. I agree with you. I certainly don't want to misrepresent Blomberg, and I can see how my previous comment may have seemed to do that. I was really just trying to put out some food for thought for anyone who does happen to hold a very liberal view of the Gospels.

This is a good chapter, and I appreciate Blomberg's work.

Brian said...

Yeah, I liked this chapter as well - and I agree with the points you make, Vicki.

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