The Historical Reliability of the Gospels by Craig Blomberg is probably the quintessential book on the topic, as Blomberg covers the subject masterfully. The goal of the book is to inform the reader of the methods of studying the gospels historically, present the difficulties and challenges in the gospels, to address the issue of reliability in light of these methods and difficulties, and to demonstrate that the New Testament holds up very well to historical criticism.
First Blomberg covers the methods of gospel study, including form criticism, redaction criticism, Midrash, and hermeneutical methodology. He shows the strengths and weaknesses of each approach, as well as the motive and history of each approach. This is a very helpful section that introduces the reader to an overall history of textual criticism and makes the methodology familiar.
Following the discussion of textual criticism, its history, and methodology, Blomberg spends an interesting chapter discussing the subject of miracles and their effect on the historicity of the gospels. He addresses scientific, philosophical, and historical objections by describing the arguments against miracles, and then shows some of their weaknesses. It is a fair treatment of the skeptical arguments as well as a strong critique of an anti-supernatural view. Blomberg points out that none of the objections to miracles completely rules out their possibility. He also shows the importance of the resurrection as a key to the rest of the miraculous accounts. In presenting four possible interpretations of the facts, Blomberg presents an actual physical resurrection as the most plausible hypothesis with the most explanatory power and scope. Although not a comprehensive treatment on the subject of miracles, the author does show that you cannot separate the miraculous accounts from the historical narratives.
Blomberg next deals with the topic of alleged contradictions among the gospel accounts. This also includes a chapter on John’s gospel and its unique attributes. Blomberg categorizes the various conflicts in to multiple categories: conflicting theology, paraphrase, chronological problems, omissions, composite speeches, apparent doublets, and variations in names and numbers. Most of the issues fall into these categories and the author shows that there are many harmonizations that can be proposed as very plausible solutions. In short, many of these are misunderstandings that really do nothing to discredit or threaten the historical reliability of the gospels. One quote stands out: “It is remarkable to observe how often the alleged contradictions among the gospels are cited without a discussion of the many proposed solutions which can fit them together in a very plausible and natural manner.”
In the last section of the book, Blomberg covers the tradition of Jesus outside the gospel narratives. He includes non-Christian sources, extra-biblical Christian traditions, and the writings of Paul. The author ends with an exposition on historical methodology. The historical methodology chapter may have been just as welcome in the introduction of the book.
If only one book could be recommended as a thorough overview of the historical reliability of the gospels, Blomberg’s would be it. The Historical Reliability of the Gospels has a large scope, it covers of a wide variety of objections and apparent contradictions, and is an excellent history lesson on textual criticism.