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Making Sense of the New Testament: Three Crucial Questions. Craig L. Blomberg.

Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004. 189 pp.

 Review by Dr Aquila Lee

Craig L. Blomberg is distinguished professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary, where he has taught for more than fifteen years. This book was designed to be a companion volume to Tremper Longman’s Making Sense of the Old Testament: Three Crucial Questions. While Longman addresses three very broad questions about hermeneutics, theology, and application, Blomberg tackles three broad questions about Jesus, Paul, and application. In the first chapter Blomberg evaluates the historical reliability of the New Testament. In the second he compares the teachings of Jesus and Paul and asks whether Paul was the true founder of Christianity. In the final chapter he delineates several principles for the judicious application of the NT texts to a contemporary context.

 

In the first two chapters the hidden interlocutor is modern liberal scholarship that undermines the historical credibility of the New Testament. In Chapter 1 “Is the New Testament Historically Reliable?” Blomberg defends the traditional authorship and date for the Gospels and Acts. Against alleged contradictions both among the Synoptic Gospels and between these and John’s Gospel he has this to say (p.36):

 

A sizable majority of the apparent discrepancies disappear once we recall the freer standards of historical reportage in the ancient world . . . But even our modern, scientific world preserves similar conventions. No one thinks to accuse the news reporter of an error when he or she declares, “President so-and-so announced today that . . . ,” when in fact it was his press secretary who read a document produced by a script writer and presumably run past the president, however briefly. So we should scarcely be surprised when Matthew telescopes the account of the Gentile centurion requesting a miracle from Jesus via Jewish intermediaries (so Luke 7:6) into one in which the centurion himself comes with the request (Matt. 8:5). Acting through an intermediary could be spoken of as acting for oneself.

 

Having presented evidence for the historical reliability of the New Testament from the harmonious portrait of Jesus that arises from the Gospels and its corroboration in non-Christian writing (Jewish and Greco-Roman historiography), archaeology, and the apostolic fathers Blomberg comes to the conclusion that “Cumulatively . . . an impressive case can be made for the general trustworthiness of the Gospels and Acts, via historical criteria alone. . . . Because the Gospels and Acts prove reliable in so many places where they can be tested, they should be given the benefit of the doubt in those places where they cannot” (p.70).

 

In Chapter 2 he deals with the prima facie differences between the teaching of Jesus and Paul and the supposed paucity of Paul’s knowledge of the biographical details of Jesus. He begins by outlining Paul’s extensive knowledge of the teachings of Jesus, and then he delineates Paul’s knowledge of other elements in the Gospel tradition. He also enumerates six key 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; and eschatology. Blomberg’s answer to the question “Was Paul the True Founder of Christianity?” is “By no means” (p.105). While he admits that “theological distinctiveness between the two men remain,” he concludes that Paul “knew a considerable amount about the life and teachings of the historical Jesus, and his central proclamation depended on the veracity of the death and resurrection of Christ, precisely as described in the Gospels and predicted  by Jesus himself” (pp.105-6). 

 

The third and last chapter asks, “How is the Christian to apply the New Testament to life?” It is true that my doctoral research was more closely related to the issues discussed in the first two chapters than this one. But, since I came back to teach at BGST, my interest has been gradually shifted towards issues of application. Precisely because of this, I enjoyed reading this section of the book, and hence my choice for this week’s book review! However, I’m not saying that the issues raised in the first two chapters are unimportant or less important than the third. Rather, I am equally convinced with Blomberg that “interpretation accomplishes little unless it leads to application” (p.15).

 

Convinced that misapplications of the biblical texts are grounded in misinterpretations of them, Blomberg seeks to provide hermeneutical principles and procedures as he discusses individual texts and forms in canonical sequence. His basic four steps for legitimate biblical application are: “(1) determining the original application(s) intended by the passage; (2) evaluating the level of specificity of those applications to see if they should transferred across time and space to other audiences; (3) if not, identifying broader cross-cultural principles that the specific elements of the text reflect; and (4) finding appropriate contemporary applications that embody those principles (p.108). He emphasizes that when we apply the events in Acts we need to take into account “their transitional nature,” while applying the Pauline epistles, their “occasional” nature (pp. 126, 131).

 

I’m confident that this book will introduce our BTW readers (especially my students of NT101) to the major debates and methods in New Testament studies without being saturated with minutiae. One of the strengths of this book is its comprehensive scope. How great it is to be able to be exposed to these crucial questions at one sitting or two! At times one may feel that the discussion of particular texts is too brief, but don’t worry there are plenty of endnotes that will guide you for further readings.

CHAPEL NOTES

On Wednesday March 2nd, we are pleased to welcome to Chapel Daniel Tay and his wife Melissa. They shared with us their work with A Rocha.  They will be filming and producing videos on the national A Rocha projects from mid-March 2005 to March 2006. A Rocha is an international conservation organisation working to show God’s love for all creation. Visit their website at www.arocha.org

 

Chapel Speaker on March 16th was Dr Quek Swee Hwa.  

NEWS BITS

  1. New Admission. Mr Christopher Loh Kim Hoong is working toward the Dip. CS at BGST. He is a retired teacher but still active as a Relief Teacher with the Ministry of Education. He worships at the Wesley Methodist Church and has obtained his BA degree from the National University of Singapore.  

  2. Change of Course Dates. Learning the Craft of Teaching (CE255) will commence on April 5th. Three more sessions will be held on April 12, 19 & 26. Students who have registered for this course kindly take note of the new dates. 

  3. Possible cancellation of OT354 (Ruth and Esther): This course, due to begin on Monday March 21st, has at present only attracted two registrations. Unless more students sign up, it will be cancelled. The date of the first lecture has been put back to March 28 to allow for further registrations. If you intent to attend the lectures, please let us know soon, or there will be no lectures to attend!  

  4. We extend our deepest condolences to Mr Mickey Chiang whose beloved mother has gone home to be with the Lord on March 9th.


COME CELEBRATE

 

BGST is pleased to organize a re-enactment of the Pesach Seder (the Jewish Passover Meal)

Combined with the institution of the Lord's Supper by our Lord Jesus.

 

Venue: 31 Tanjong Pagar Rd, 3rd floor

Date: 24th March 2005, Thursday

 

First Session: 6.00-7.30pm

Second Session: 8.00-9.30pm

 

Each session is limited to only 30 participants. The cost is $15 per person.

To register, please call Serene Woon at Tel: 6227 6815 by 22 March.  

A Blessed Birthday to ...

Mr Matthew Yap  14/3

Mr Vincent Lun  15/3

Mr Simon Ting  15/3

Mr Kenneth Tan  15/3

Mdm Bessie Ng  16/3

Mr Paul Yap  16/3

Mr Tan Chek Wu  17/3

Dr David Wong  18/3

Dr Ong Eng Keow  19/3

Mr Loo Cheng  Koon  19/3

Ms Pauline Koh  19/3

Mr Edmund Koh  20/3

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