Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction and Survey

Written by Craig L. Blomberg Reviewed By Steve Walton

Professor Blomberg has put students and teachers in his debt with this textbook which provides a fine resource for an introductory course on the gospels. Having used it in that way this year, feedback from my students on this book has been uniformly positive. What makes it good?

First, it covers the ground. There are five major parts: historical background for studying the gospels (political, religious and socio-economic); critical methods for studying the gospels (source, form, redaction and ‘literary’ criticism); introduction to the four gospels (taking each in turn, starting with Mark, which Blomberg judges to have been first); a survey of the life of Christ (working roughly chronologically and synthesising the gospels as he goes); and historical and theological synthesis (the trustworthiness of the gospels, summarising his earlier book, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, Leicester, IVP, 1987, and the ‘theology of Jesus’, considering what Jesus himself believed). Each section is well-proportioned and Blomberg has chosen the topics to include (and exclude!) judiciously.

Second, Blomberg is positive about the gospels. He tackles the arguments of the sceptics and shows that the gospels claim to present events that took place, and that there are good arguments for believing that they have succeeded. Of course, each writer had his own focus and point of view—Blomberg acknowledges and identifies such ‘redactional’ emphases—but he assumes that the evangelists thought they were writing about Jesus. This is refreshing when many scholars propose that the gospels say more about the authors and their churches than about Jesus.

Thirdly, Blomberg writes clearly and accessibly. This material has clearly been taught, and taught by a man who is a good teacher. For example, he describes the two parts of redaction criticism as ‘reading horizontally’ (comparing the way a story or saying is reported across the different gospels) and ‘reading vertically’ (looking through a whole gospel to see the other uses of a key phrase or word, to find the author’s emphases—pp. 93–95). The helpful diagrams which occur regularly are a further aid to grasping the content.

Fourthly, it is easy to find your way around. As well as the section and! chapter divisions, there are good indexes of modern authors, subjects and Scripture references. It is also a delight to find a publisher who puts footnotes where they belong—on the page, rather than hidden away at the back!

Fifthly, Blomberg has provided excellent bibliographies at the end of each chapter, to lead the student into the wider field. More than that, he has divided them up into introductory, intermediate and advanced books.

Finally, there are useful ‘questions for review’ at the end of each chapter, which give readers the chance to check that they have understood the key ideas in the chapter. Some of these are factual and some invite further reflection. I liked: ‘Given the emphases and probable circumstances of writing of Matthew’s Gospel, in what settings in contemporary Christian living might it be even more acutely relevant than the other gospels?’ (p. 139).

How might this book be improved? In places Blomberg skates over vast areas rather quickly, particularly in describing critical methods. There is little chance to interact with the original texts from the cultural and religious environment of the NT authors—such as key passages from Josephus, Philo or the Dead Sea Scrolls. In an ideal world such a book might also contain pictures to show the reader (e.g.) what the wilderness looked like. However these are small quibbles for a book that describes itself as ‘An Introduction and Survey’.

This is a fine book, which deserves a wide readership. It provides students and teachers with a good textbook, and it would help an evangelical student studying in an unsympathetic college or university by filling in the gaps left by more sceptical teaching.

Steve Walton

Steve Walton
St Mary’s University, Twickenham
London, UK