The Historical-Critical Influence: A Review of Blomberg and Hagner

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE HISTORICAL-CRITICAL INFLUENCE:

A REVIEW OF BLOMBERG AND HAGNER

by Steve Cha

 

Evangelicals have questioned historical-criticism’s integrity, validity, and contribution to evangelical scholarship. Does it benefit the cause of Christianity or does it turn people away from the faith? Historical-critical scholars, whether major practitioners or those who lean closer to grammatical-historical hermeneutics, claim that it can be used for the good of the gospel and the testimony of the Christian faith. Two such proponents that we will examine are Craig Blomberg and Donald Hagner, whose respective books, Can We Still Believe the Bible? and The New Testament, are meant to provide a defense of and give a solid explanation of Christian theology to scholars and/or skeptics. In other words, these scholarly works are meant to be a major contribution to the world of evangelical literature, teaching a generation of teachers, pastors, and leaders to lead God’s flock and instill confidence in the word of God. But the question is: Do these books set out to accomplish its purpose? Is there any inherent flaw in these books or danger that the unsuspecting public does not realize? Should we care about these issues, according to the mandates of Scripture? The intent of this essay is to critically engage both Blomberg and Hagner on these issues, analyzing the strength and weakness of their books, and concluding by showing what implication this has on the readers.

 

The Merits of the Books

As a book that seeks to defend the trustworthiness of the Bible, Can We Still Believe the Bible? passes in some noteworthy areas. In each of the six chapters, Blomberg does not disappoint, for the most part, in refuting the claims of the unbelieving skeptic who propose the “errors” and difficulties in the Bible. We already see this in action in Chapter 1, when Blomberg defends the Christian faith against one of Christianity’s most ardent opponents, Bart Ehrman, in the issue of textual transmission.

Blomberg describes the issue at hand, which is the controversy surrounding the book Misquoting Jesus. The book is infamous for shaking the faith of the general public, in which Ehrman makes claims such as the fact that the Bible contains over 400,000 textual variants/errors and that verses such as Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:58-8:11 were not part of the original texts, but were written by non-apostolic authors at a much later time. Blomberg is dutiful to correct the misconception of Ehrman and the truth of the matter by pointing out what Ehrman failed to mention – that the variants were spread out over 25,000 manuscripts, which equaled about eight scribal errors per manuscript (pg 17). And most of these textual variants had nothing to do with intentional errors intended to change theology, but were unintentional copyist errors of spelling or grammatical that does not change the meaning or theology of the text. This line of reasoning is in line with orthodox evangelical apologetics.

The author also makes an excellent commentary regarding the nature of Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:58-8:11, which are highly debated passages. How should these texts be handled? Should these texts be included in the Bible? Are they part of the original manuscripts? In regards to the last twelve verses of Mark, “there are a number of good, generally reliable, relatively early manuscripts” in favor of its authenticity (pg. 20). In contrast, “none of the oldest, most complete, and most reliable manuscripts contain John 7:53-8:11” (pg. 20). However, there is nothing theologically objectionable about these two passages, which make for the fact that it could possibly have been written by their respective authors (although Blomberg doesn’t really believe this). Because these two passages do not appear in the majority of the 25,000 manuscripts, Blomberg cautions readers not to make it mandatory to preach these texts as part of Sunday school sermons or lessons as if it were part of the canon of Scripture. In the words of the ESV Study Bible, “It should not be considered a part of Scripture and should not be used as the basis for building any point of doctrine unless confirmed in Scripture.” It doesn’t mean that they were produced exactly the way that Bart Ehrman theorizes, but that they should be proceeded with caution and understood as to its nature so that Christian leaders will not set up their “people for confusion when books like Ehrman’s appear and have no idea how to respond” (pg. 21).

Hagner’s The New Testament also displays its strengths as a Bible resource book. Some of its opening chapters provide a good opening that sets up for a proper introduction the New Testament. For example, Chapter 2: The Old Testament Promise and Preparation describes the indispensability of the Old Testament in understanding the New Testament. Hagner states, “It is virtually impossible to understand the NT without knowledge of the Scriptures of Israel” (pg. 13). In essence, the New Testament is the fulfillment of the Old Testament, because in the OT we learn of the Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and New Covenants which find their fulfillment in Christ Jesus.

In Chapter 3: The World of the New Testament, Hagner does a great job in revealing the world in which Jesus and the apostles lived in so that the readers can understand their predicament. We understand the history ofIsraelin that they were cursed because of their rejection of God in 586 BC, which led to their tragic exile toBabylon. Since then, they had been on a fervent mission to reverse that sin by living a sense of self-righteousness to find favor with God, which led to a sect of Judaism known as the Pharisees. Hagner sums by the issue well when he says, “If the reason underlying the dilemma was the sin ofIsrael, then the first, and most obvious, answer was to pursue righteousness more effectively. This seems clear and logical, and several groups began to emerge in the postexilic era to champion righteousness with great energy: the Hasidim, the Pharisees, and scribes, and the Essenes atQumran” (pg. 34). This information is helpful in understanding Jesus’ opponents at the time, their religious philosophy, and why Christ was against their soteriology in contrast to the salvation that He offered.

The New Testament’s most noteworthy strength as a resource is its book-by-book exposition of the New Testament, which comprises Chapters 11-41. It is, for the most part, a sound explanation of the text of Scripture, which makes this part of the book (if nothing else) an adequate resource for any Christian to learn about the meaning of the New Testament text. Chapter 27: First Corinthians is a prime example of this. After introducing the book, the author, the background, and the occasion of 1 Corinthians in the first few pages, Hagner delves into the main content of the epistle. With this particular book, he uses a structure of Problem and Solution with each sin of the Corinthians as he progresses through the epistle beginning with 1 Corinthians 1-4. The problem is the Corinthians divisiveness due to loyalty to certain teachers (human wisdom), and the Solution is to boast in Christ alone (divine wisdom) (pg. 484). The outline creatively, but accurately, captures the flow of the passage until 1 Corinthians 16:13-24, which is the last Question and Response.

Although each of these New Testament book exposition sections is constructed differently, they each have common features that are commendable. Each NT book exploration, such as with 1 Corinthians, contains a section on the second page with details the Author, Date, Addressees, Purpose, Message/Argument, and Significance, which is convenient for the reader. I don’t say that the message in this box is always accurate, but that it is a helpful tool for any NT study. Issues such as Integrity, Date, and Author is explored in more detail at the end of chapter, which is indispensable to any New Testament study, even for those who do not hold to any form of historical-critical background. It is basic information that helps us better understand the background, significance, and purpose of each given text of Scripture.

 

The Weakness of the Two Books

For all the merits and contributions that Blomberg and Hagner’s books put forth, they also contain glaring errors and weaknesses throughout their works. Because of this, it is difficult to fully recommend them as models of apologetics and/or expositions to both scholars and skeptics of Christianity. Of course, this is expected of any works of historical-criticism, especially if it affects the trustworthiness and inspiration of the Bible (which happens to be one of the subjects of discussion later on in this review).

We have previously established that Blomberg’s book contains good apologetical arguments for the truth of the Christian faith. However, one subject that he seriously falters on is inerrancy. In fact, Chapter 4: Don’t These Issues Rule out Biblical Inerrancy? is one of the book’s weakest chapters. I say this because of the fact that the author’s arguments and examples do not fully do justice to the true definition of inerrancy, despite what he believes inerrancy to be. Blomberg provides a fitting definition of deductive and inductive approaches to inerrancy, and even a definition of inerrancy from Paul Feinberg as “when all facts are known, the Scriptures in their original autographs and properly interpreted will be shown to be wholly true in everything that they affirm, whether that has to do with doctrine or morality or with the social, physical, or life sciences” (pg. 123).

However, once he verbally affirms the statement, Blomberg decides to be pretty flexible with the definition, no doubt reading meaning into it that was never intended by Feinberg nor by the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. Blomberg breaks Feinberg’s definition down one by one beginning with “when all facts are known,” implying that objective facts can never truly be known about the intentions of a given text. Second, the Scripture are to be “properly interpreted,” which means that the interpreter could come to any conclusion on a given topic based on his interpretive method (ex. complementarian vs. egalitarian). Therefore, inerrancy is not a prooftext for getting people to submit to one particular reading of a given text. Third, “in everything that they affirm, whether …the social, physical, or life sciences” is an indicator that the text does not necessarily have to affirm the literalness of a given situation, but could merely be pointing to a parable or an allegory (which nullifies the need for historical, geographical, or scientific truth).

In other words, it’s not about the words of the text, but the intention of the author, which Blomberg argues does not affect inerrancy. Blomberg even claims that you can be a creationist or a theistic evolutionist and still be an inerrantist. As the author states, “Thus Genesis 1 can be and has been interpreted by inerrantists as referring to a young earth, an old earth, progressive creation, theistic evolution, a literary framework for asserting God as the creator of all things irrespective of his methods, and as series of days when God took up residence in his cosmic temple for the sake of newly created humanity in his image. Once again, this is a matter for hermeneutical and exegetical debate, not one that is solved by appealing to the shibboleth of inerrancy.”

Blomberg’s analysis is problematic as it relates to defining inerrancy. It is one thing to say that a believer’s saving faith or a church’s unity should not be dependent on whether one holds to a young earth or old earth view. But it’s quite another thing to say that inerrancy should not be dependent on creationism vs. evolutionism. Contrary to Blomberg’s statement, inerrancy is a matter of hermeneutical and exegetical debate, since the heart of inerrancy has to do with exegesis, since inerrancy is based on a commitment to grammatical-historical (literal) exegesis of Scripture, as defined by the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy Article XVIII. Anything else, even a hybrid of historical-critical and critical-historical, is no longer a guarantee of inerrancy. Inerrancy can only be safeguarded by a committed to grammatical-historical exegesis of the text.

Another questionable part of Blomberg is his assumption that Genesis 1 has been “interpreted by inerrantists,” – a group which includes both old earth and theistic evolutionists. What makes Blomberg sure that these old earth teachers are “inerrantists”? What standard is he using to include these people? Inerrancy, as defined by standards of biblical interpretation, is not based on one’s identification with the Christian faith or what one subjectively thinks about the author’s unexpressed intention, but what the text actually says. According to the definition of inerrancy, and most importantly the doctrine of biblical inspiration, we must affirm that God created the earth in six literal days if we are to be counted as legitimate inerrantists. Anything less would be to allegorize the text and to read meaning into the text that is foreign to the author’s original intent, which betrays the meaning of inerrancy.

This leads into another problematic section in Can We Still Believe the Bible?, which is Chapter 5: Aren’t Several Narrative Genres of the Bible Unhistorical? This section is about the importance of genre in understanding each individual books of the Bible. Genre informs how we understand issues like the use of metaphors, symbolisms, and figurative language in Scripture. However, genre does not do away with or reinterpret the literal nature of the text, which is what Blomberg settles with in trying to answer the “so-called aggressive atheists of our day” (pg. 147) when they lampoon such stories as Jonah and the book of Job. Blomberg begins this chapter by discussing how parables are used in the New Testament. In discussing the nature of parables, Blomberg says that “standard of truth in a parable is the spiritual point or points that its author intends to make” (pg. 149). Blomberg’s point as it regards parables is spot on. However, the author’s mistake is to assume that the account of Job, Jonah, and even the creation account are parables as well, which the author implies when he writes, “so it is perfectly appropriate to ask questions of form or genre for books like Job and Jonah or sections of books like the opening chapters of Genesis” (pg. 148). Not only is this a misreading of the text of Scripture that is antithetical to most of historic Christianity, but it strikes at the heart of grammatical-historical exegesis and at the doctrine of inerrancy.

The situation becomes more disturbing as Blomberg gives his Old Testament Examples for how “believers in inerrancy have in fact held to a wide variety of positions” on Genesis interpretations (pg 151). This begs the question once again: Can believers truly be “inerrantists” while holding to a variety of positions and practicing different styles of hermeneutics and exegetics? Based on the arguments I made before, the answer is an affirmative no.

In Genesis 1 and Creation (pg. 150), Blomberg suggests that “inerrantists” can believe in the gap theory. In other words, they do not have to take Gen 1:1 literally, or at face value. Using their historical-critical hermeneutics, or whatever system of interpretation they hold to, theistic evolutionists can believe in a gap of billions of years between the original creation of the universe (Gen 1:1) and the organizing activity of God to bring order out of the chaos implied in Genesis 1:2. They can believe that the chapter is merely poetry, written through a literary framework with parallelism that dominates Hebrew text. According to Blomberg, it seemed to be a common device in the ancient Mesopotamian world in order to communicate their language, and to highlight the uniqueness and truth of the Hebrew God, Yahweh. It wasn’t about the literal details, but the beauty and power of the message. Apparently, Blomberg believes that this can be reconciled with inerrancy. But as previously established, this betrays the definition of inerrancy because it goes against the plain sense of Scripture interpretation (grammatical-historical). This also appears to be a case in which evangelicals skeptics do not believe in Genesis 1’s ability to speak on matters of science, therefore they reinterpret it based on human tradition of secular science (evolution). Does this really sound like honoring inerrancy?

Blomberg also works with an equally faulty situation in the next section, Genesis 2-3 and the Fall of Humanity (pg. 152). As with the last section, the author reasons that many evangelicals claim to be inerrantists, but interpret Genesis 2-3 differently. How so? They see Adam and Eve as not referring to the first man and woman, or even to real people for that matter. The author suggests that the Hebrew words for “man” and “life” sound very much like what one would expect from an archetypal narrative designed to communicate all humanity’s fall into sin (pg. 152). More specifically, Blomberg sees Adam and Eve as symbolically referring to an unknown group of humanity at the beginning of time. The view that he takes (as he later confesses in the Conclusion) is that Adam and Eve were Neolithic creatures (who lived 8,000-10,000 years ago). Adam was just one of many who evolved over millions of years. “On this view, Adam, the first true man, will have had as contemporaries many creatures of comparable intelligence, widely distributed over the world” (pg 153).

Once again, this view is entirely unverifiable and contrary to Scripture. The only way one can possibly entertain this view is he believes in the secular theory of evolution. Scripture itself does not entertain this idea, at least not through the normal sense of the language. There is nothing in the text to indicate that this section is allegorical or poetic, since consistency of hermeneutics reveals the fact that the whole of Genesis is historical narrative. Even Moses and succeeding Israelite generations understood it as such, and not as poetry. Ridding Adam and Eve of their historical nature is once again distrusting in the Bible’s ability to speak on matters of science – in this case the origins of humanity. And this becomes an important reason for matters of faith as well. If Adam and Eve were not real (as the Bible describes them) and people evolved millions of years before man received his “God-conscience,” does this mean that there was death in the world before then? Was death not related to original sin? If sin passed down through the line of “Adam and Eve,” does this mean that there is a possibility that there are sinless people in the world through other Neolithic people who lived at the time? If Christ’s death was meant to save the chosen race of Adam, then what about the rest of the Neolithic people’s offspring, whether or not they were affected by sin? This exercise just shows the theological implications of straying away from the clear teachings of the Bible. This is why inerrantists cannot be categorized as those who take other approaches than what is clearly revealed in Scripture, whether a literal six-day creation or a historical Adam and Eve. It has major theological impact on the Christian faith.

The issue of genre has also affected Hagner in the way he interprets books of the Bible. Earlier I had made good comments about Hagner’s book in its section of expositing the individual books of the New Testament. However, Hagner errs in his theological interpretations in scattered sections of the New Testament. One particular section is the entire book (or Apocalypse) of Revelation, which is more affected by historical-critical scholarship than the straightforward exposition that more characterized the New Testament book studies that came before. It is not the intent of this essay to discuss eschatological preferences, since the purpose of this exercise is to critique the value of his historical-critical approach to his work. But the discussion of genre is still noteworthy because it is a theme that many historical-critical scholars have dogmatically used to justify their interpretation, allegorization, or “inerrancy” approach to Scripture. Hagner’s approach to the book of Revelation is no different.

Hagner claims that no book of the NT has been as much abused and misunderstood as the book of Revelation. In doing so, he specifically points the finger at pop culture dispensational eschatology made popular by the Hal Lindsey books, claiming that this generation has utterly got it wrong by date setting and waiting in vain for the return of Christ. By doing so, Hagner throws out the entire doctrine of futurist eschatology. Hagner states that “one of the reasons for the all-too-common misunderstanding and misuse of Revelation is the failure to appreciate its special literary genre. Many interpreters with the best of intentions approach the book as though it were written in straightforward prose and end up with flatly literal interpretations. But apocalyptic is a special and unique genre, familiar to those living in the first century. It draws on a common stock of apocalyptic images and langue, and it makes heavy use of symbolism” (pg. 749-50).

This case is somewhat similar to the situation of Blomberg and Genesis 1-3. It may not be as wide in scope because Blomberg tries to create a separate genre (poetry) out of a 50 Chapter book that is historical narrative. The book of Revelation is a little trickier because the genre is consistent throughout. But the question remains: Has Hagner rightly understood the genre of Revelation? Is it really an apocalyptic genre or a prophetic message? Whatever the case, does genre (whatever it may be) cancel out the need to exercise grammatical-historical hermeneutics to interpret the text? Of course, we should always take into account the issues that are involved in genre. As in the case of apocalyptic, there is the awareness of symbolism and imagery, but they always point to literal reality. Otherwise, verse-by-verse exegesis and exposition would be pointless, both for the audience of the 1st century and for the modern. To use genre as main lens to interpret the text would be to read meaning into it much the same way that theistic evolutionists would use poetic genre to allegorize and read into Genesis 1-2, when in fact God’s message is apparent in its details.

Another issue to consider in Hagner’s assessment of the apocalypse is his theory about the writer’s intent. The author describes the apocalypse as a “literary genre” with a “narrative framework,” full of “mythological imagery and a variety of symbols” that has contemporary parallels in 1 Enoch, 2 Baruch, and 4 Ezra (pgs. 760-61). In heightening the book’s composition, techniques, redaction, and artistic nature, along with creating such an extreme parallel to contemporaneous literature, the “Apocalypse” of Revelation is presented as no more of an inspired text than its secular and religious counterparts. Basically, it feels more like a book written by man than a text inspired by God, or in this case, “revealed” to the author in a supernatural vision, written down, and delivered straight to the church regarding matters of the present and the future. It appears to have been stripped of its supernatural elements and no longer appears to be a “revelation” by God, especially since Hagner believes that it does not really speak about the future plans of God. He uses Raymond Brown’s quote which states, “The author of Rev did not know how or when the world will end, and neither does anyone else” (pg. 747). This is quite tragic, not necessarily because it espouses the incorrect view of eschatology, but because it places a limit on God’s omniscience, and His capability of what He can and cannot disclose to His prophets to pass on to the church concerning the last days. Though it is true that eschatology has been abused by people who practice date setting and link the Bible with current events, this does not mean that futurism as a whole is an invalid view, or that man is never suppose to know the details concerning Christ’s Second Coming. The key as always is to be faithful to Scripture, and consistency is always through grammatical-historical hermeneutics, which theoretically should lead to a biblical understanding on any given issue. But more importantly, it upholds the doctrine of inerrancy.

Another matter than is of grave concern that strikes at the inspiration of Scripture is the issue of pseudonymity discussed by both Blomberg and Hagner. Blomberg lists examples of NT books that some scholars believe to be pseudonymous (not written by the apostles) epistles, such as Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, James, 1 Peter, and 2 Peter. The issues of dispute range from literary style to theological differences between the disputed letters. Blomberg claims that it is perfectly acceptable to believe in inspiration of Scripture and hold to pseudonymity at the same time because it was an accepted practice during the 1st century Greco-Roman culture, making it a non-moral issue. As Blomberg states, “Plenty of other examples exist in ancient Jewish, Greek, and Roman circles for attributing a document to an author whom people would have known was no longer living, doing so as a way of crediting them for being a key resource or inspiration for the ideas contained in the newer work. Far from being deceptive, it was a way of not taking credit for the contents of a book when one’s ideas were heavily indebted to others of a previous era” (pg. 169). Blomberg even compares this practice to today’s ghostwriters who write on behalf of authors, claiming that it was a similar practice back then (pp. 169-70). Blomberg goes so far as to exclaim that it is simply wrong for those on the far left and the far right to “claim that there is some inherently immoral quality to [pseudonymity]” (173).

Hagner is no different in his stance on the issue. He demonstrates pseudonymity’s validity when he expounds on the background of each individual NT book, most specifically on the section of the Author. For instance, Hagner states that Ephesians (a “Deutero-Pauline” Epistle) was “probably” written by the Apostle Paul. As quoted by Hagner: “Possibly by Paul, but more probably by a disciple of Paul” (pg. 586). Hagner cites various reason against Pauline authorship, such as vocabulary being very un-Pauline (contains 91 words not found in the undisputed Pauline Letters; forty of these are found nowhere else in the NT), style (difference in syntax between this letter and that of another Pauline letter Colossians, in which there is frequent redundancies, the clustering of synonyms, and the heavy use of consecutive genitival constructions), and theology (tendencies of early incipient Catholicism, the self-consciousness of the church, which is missing in the other Pauline Epistles). Hagner does not see a consensus on who wrote the book of Ephesians. It could be Luke, the author of Acts. It could be a member of the Pauline circle or school. But one thing is for sure: Hagner is not dogmatic on the fact that it is Paul himself.

With this in mind, we now tackle a big question of church history: Can a pseudepigraphic epistle actually make it into the canon, even though it is entirely accurate in its presentation of Christian theology? If one follows the ethical principles of Scripture concerning truth and the nature of false testimony (Ex 20:16), then a Christian must say no. However, there are some scholars like Blomberg and Hagner who would argue that accepting pseudonymous work into the canon was a common and accepted literary device in the early church, and was not considered deceptive or immoral. However, this is entirely presumptuous. Just because the Greeks and the Jews were practicing such things does not mean that the church followed suit as well. Pseudepigraphies, no matter how well intentioned they may appear at times, are ultimately an oxymoron to the biblical principles of adherence to truth (1 Tim 2:7; Rom 3:7; 2 Cor 4:2) and rejection of error (Gal 1:6-9; Jude 1:3). The church is called to not only abide by truth, but to not be conformed to this world and be transformed by the renewing of the mind (Rom 12:2). Therefore, it is not very likely that the church would passively follow after the pattern of the Jews and the Greeks in pseudonymous practices, especially if truth, divine inspiration, and testimony were at stake.

If one has submitted to the Lordship of Christ and is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, then he should have no problem in believing in what has been revealed in God’s word as He has sovereignly inspired and preserved it. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 states that “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped or every good work.” Moreover, 2 Peter 1:20 says, “…no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” All Scripture is therefore written by men of God who have the gift of prophecy. According to Blomberg’s standard of canonical criteria (which happens to be standard orthodoxy for canonical consideration), a New Testament book is considered for inclusion if it meets the standard of: 1. Apostolicity (if it was written by an apostle or an associate under supervision), 2. Catholicity (Does it have universal value among the churches?), 3. Orthodoxy (Faithful to the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles) (pgs. 58-59).

Despite his benevolent scholarly intentions, Hagner’s assessment of Ephesians runs contrary to what is clearly revealed in Scripture. In other words, it goes against the doctrine of inspiration. There is no indication that the authorship of Paul should be in question. He is indicated as author in the opening salutation, both in 1:1 (“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God…”) and 3:1 (“For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus…”). This means that the composition was between A.D. 60-62 while he was in prison inRome(Acts 28:16-31) and was written around the same time as Colossians. Paul assures readers concerning his true identity, versus those who write in the spirit of falsehood, when he writes in verses like 2 Thessalonians 2:2-3: “…that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one in any way deceive you…” This shows the premium that is placed on truthfulness, especially documents written by Apostles themselves (or at the most an assistant writing per oversight). This is clearly different from Blomberg and Hagner’s idea of a pseudonym or allonym, who are disciples of the Apostles. They take fragments or ideas of the Apostles who have died 20-30 years prior, write the Epistles, and pass of the works under the Apostle’s names apparently as homage and/or credit to them. This would apparently not qualify as “pseudepigrapha” because they are not written past AD 100!

There are many problems with this theory. The first and obvious one is that it betrays God’s commands from the text concerning abstaining from false testimony, as well as the nature of prophecy and inspiration. Another problem is that it downplays the work of the Holy Spirit in the production of the New Testament and glorifies the human agent as the one responsible for what we have today. Another practical question concerning the nature of pseudonym: Wouldn’t it seem peculiar for a church to receive an “inspired” Epistle from an Apostle via an Evangelist (the “real” writer), knowing that the Apostle had been long dead? Is there really any sense of authority in this letter, knowing that it was authored by another?

The integrity of authorship naturally leads to the discussion of the Synoptic Gospel theory, which is briefly mentioned in Blomberg’s book, but more fully developed in Hagner’s. In fact, Hagner devotes an entire chapter to the Synoptic theory (Chapter 9) and even another chapter on the theoretical Q Document (Chapter 10). One begins to think if it is profitable to devote such large sections of New Testament studies to such things that, especially if you believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, do not exist. In other words, they are nothing more than theories that should be merely documented for the sake of apologetics and refutation. However, Hagner believes that there is validity in these two claims. The author sees truth in the Two Source Theory and believes that a Q Document existed (pg. 142) and was the source (along with Mark) behind Matthew and Luke’s composition.

The Q Document, as Hagner describes, is a non-narrative source comprised of 230 verses. These verses sum up various deeds and teachings of Jesus throughout His three year ministry, ranging from temptation to the two parables. Whatever the case, they were the source behind the material found in Mark and Luke (which apparently describes the two Gospel’s “similarities” in these accounts). This is the basis for which Hagner arrives at the conclusion that the Gospel of Mark is the earliest Gospel of them all (despite the overwhelming claim of Matthean priority as evidenced by early Church Fathers, which even Hagner admits on page 195).

The Synoptic Problem is one of the most widely held views of historical-critics, but one that cannot be ignored. Once again, this issue has to do with whether one has fully submitted to the Lordship of Christ and believes in the inspiration and trustworthiness of His word. If he has, then there is really no reason to doubt that God has miraculously spoken through men and passed it on truthfully to the church. So the question is: Did the Apostles (or Evangelists for that matter) really depend on each other’s documents (or on the “Q”) to pen their Gospel? If the Apostles were eyewitnesses to the life of Christ, why did they need to rely on sources? What is the alternative solution to this dilemma?

The biblical solution, as even upheld by the testimony of the early church, is that each Apostle wrote their Gospels independently, without reference to each other’s work. This is called the Independence Theory, or literary independence. This view is most in sync with the inspiration of Scripture, since it allows for the idea of God working through each individual writer (wherever they are at) to pen the Scripture, bringing to memory all that Christ taught them (Jn 14:26), and delivering it to the church for edification. Even the idea of 3 separate but similar accounts of Jesus’ three year ministry (through questionable to liberals) is biblical. It is grounded in the Old Testament principle of 2 to 3 witnesses for vindicating someone on charge of a crime. Deuteronomy 19:15 reads, “A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.” This principle was a safeguard against a false witness who might bring an untruthful charge against the accused. Two or three witnesses guarantee greater accuracy. In this case, false witness was brought upon Christ (His deity and Messianic credentials), which was testified on account of three eyewitnesses (the three Gospels). That is the intent behind the independent account of three separate Gospels in the New Testament. However, the Two Source theory (though seeming to uphold the appearance of three separate accounts) essentially teaches the idea that there was really only one source (testimony) behind it all. This is blasphemy against the work of the Holy Spirit in the outworking of history and in the testimony of Christ.

The weight of evidence against the Two Source theory, or any form of Dependence Theory, is numerous. Of course, belief in the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture should already be a valid reason to believe that the Gospels were independently written by the Apostles. However, there are also other reasonable factors to consider. As I mentioned before, the nearly unanimous testimony of the early church until the 19th century (when historical-criticism became popular) was that Matthew was the first gospel written. The Christian scholars closest to the time of the Apostles would have known more about the authorship foundation of the Gospels than modern day scholars. But curiously, this astounding fact is mostly ignored by the historical-critical community in favor of subjective internal evidence. Even the fact that Mark was hardly mentioned or used by the early church as the first Gospel raises serious questions as to its priority.

Another question one should ask when considering Markan priority is, “Why would Matthew, an apostle and eyewitness to the events of Christ’s life, depend on Mark (who was not an eyewitness) – even for the account of his own conversion? There is also the issue of the significant statistical analysis of the synoptic gospels, which reveals that the parallels between them are far less extensive and the differences more important than is commonly acknowledged. The differences, in particular, argue against literary dependence between the Gospel writers.

As it regards the Q document, there is no historical or manuscript evidence that the Q document ever existed. It is a theory of modern skepticism. Even Hagner acknowledged that the Q document is “conjectural” and a “hypothesis” (pg. 141), which means that it is not an established fact. If this is so, then there is really no reason to uphold or defend it. This theory, which Hagner personally believes in, is in reality a device that denies the verbal inspiration of the Gospels, since it reveals that man was not dependent upon God for the words of Scripture, but upon human resources in writing the documents. This makes the Gospels more like an evolutionary process.

This leads to the final discussion on the sufficiency of Scripture. Blomberg raises some concerns about in the section Chapter 2. In the section Avoiding the Opposite Extreme, Blomberg cautions readers to avoid “deleterious mistakes of the “far right.” According to Blomberg, these people are characterized as being too biblical, rejecting non-Christian psychology and refusing to study world religions (pg. 77). Blomberg encourages us to not be sheltered in our bubble and to engage with the world around us. He says that there is truth in other worldviews and religions (as long as they don’t contradict the Bible) that can be used and integrated with the Christian worldview. Blomberg makes the analogy on page 80: “…if it is wrong to treat the Gospel of Thomas or the book of Judith with as much reverence as we do the book of Proverbs or the Epistle to the Romans, it is equally dangerous to claim to provide responsible and healthy counseling without ever studying, critiquing, and appropriating certain insights that are valid from Freud, Jung, Skinner, …and various other non-Christian psychologists.”

            This discussion, ironically, strikes at the heart of the sufficiency of Scripture and does not “Avoid the Opposite Extreme.” Although it is obvious that the Bible does not contain everything that we need in life (ex. the knowledge of mathematics, learning musical skills, playing golf as Blomberg writes on pg. 78), it does equip us fully in the moral and ethical sense. Topics such as psychology, world religions, dating, and counseling are moral and ethical issues that have their basis in Scripture (if used correctly). However, what is more troubling is Blomberg’s belief that the Christian worldview, and orthopraxy, can somehow be integrated with practices such as psychology, when in reality, the two philosophies are polar opposites. Since secular psychology has a system that’s view of anthropology, human depravity, and the solution to sin is different from Christianity, can it really be as a benefit to Christianity? What does it offer that Scripture cannot? Another problem with this section is that the author is vague concerning the notion of finding truth in other world religions. Although it is true that we should study other religions in an apologetic fashion to defend the Christian faith, there is no biblical basis to dialogue with other religions or find commonality with them. This whole section appears to be one of the most unclear, if not most, compromising sections of the entire book that weakens the doctrine of sufficiency.

 

Conclusion

Can We Still Believe the Bible? and The New Testament have some notable strengths in terms of apologetic and biblical survey values. Because the authors remain true to the core values of the Christian faith, these works cannot be deemed as heretical works. However, their weaknesses are much too noticeable to overlook. Their incorporation of historical-criticism in their works show that it cannot be compatible with grammatical-historical exegesis or accurate exposition of Scripture for that matter, as exemplified in the examples of authorship, composition, biblical interpretation, and genre. There are more things that can be said about the faults of Blomberg and Hagner’s book (which I did not mention due to space limitation), but the main point is that Blomberg and Hagner’s incorporation of historical-critical ideology into biblical hermeneutics simply does not work. The results are books that do not do justice to the issue defending the faith in the public eye nor explaining the truth of the history and theology of the New Testament.

 

 

Books Reviewed by Steve Cha, author of Hollywood Mission: Possible: 

  • http://www.curtisvillechristianchurch.org/AuthSuppl.html James Snapp Jr

    You wrote, “Because these two passages do not appear in the majority of the 25,000 manuscripts, Blomberg cautions readers not to make it mandatory to preach these texts as part of Sunday school sermons or lessons as if it were part of the canon of Scripture.”

    What? What?!?! The fact that you can say such a thing after reading Blomberg’s book does not encourage me to go buy it. The main reason why Mark 16:9-20 is not in thousands of manuscripts is simply that Gospel of Mark is not in thousands of manuscripts; i.e., oodles of manuscripts are fragmentary, or contain only the Pauline Epistles, or only Acts and the Epistles, or only Revelation. Mark 16:9-20 is most certainly in an overwhelming majority of manuscripts of the Gospels.

    Mark 16:9-20 is supported by all undamaged Greek copies of Mark 16 (i.e., over 1,600 manuscripts) except 2. It’s in the Vulgate, so if it’s not in any of the 8,000+ Vulgate copies, that’s merely due to incidental damage. And it’s in the Peshitta, which is extant in hundreds of copies. And it’s in the Ethiopic version (contrary to false claims of commentators such as William Lane), in every Ethiopic copy of the Gospel of Mark.