By Beth Vickers
Craig Blomberg is Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary and an editor of the Tyndale House Gospel Perspectives series
You’re quite a familiar face at Tyndale House, how long have you been coming here?
The connection goes all the way back to the 1980s. I did my PhD in Aberdeen and was introduced to the Tyndale Fellowship while I was there. The Eighties was the decade of the six Tyndale House Gospel Perspectives books which discuss the reliability of the Gospels from different angles. I helped edit the final volume and subsequently wrote The Historical Reliability of the Gospels as a separate stand-alone book designed to popularise the findings of the series.
Would you author a book like The Historical Reliability of the Gospels now?
In fact I’m working on a book about the historical Jesus at the moment. In modern research, the Gospel of John has pretty much been left to one side because it’s so different from Matthew, Mark and Luke, but for the past 15 years there has been a very active seminar at the biggest academic Bible conference in the world called The John, Jesus and History Seminar. People from a lot of perspectives have participated, and almost all agree that, using the standard criteria of historical research, we can approach questions with a fair amount of confidence about first-century Jesus of Nazareth.
One of the things I am working on currently is ritual purity. Jesus moved things out of the ritual dimension to the moral dimension, but to what degree is still a contested matter. There is a lot you can find in the Gospel of John, and it’s not right at the surface. If you take a sceptical approach and say, let’s strip away John’s theological biases, one of the things that’s left is a recurring emphasis on purity. I wrote a book in the mid-2000s called Contagious Holiness which looks at Jesus’s meals with sinners and the way in which holiness, or wholeness, is more contagious than impurity. But I did that looking in Matthew, Mark and Luke, so this book is going to have more of a focus on John.
Are we still uncovering new “evidence” for the historical context of the New Testament, or are we coming back to the same things and repackaging them?
Yes to both actually. If one didn’t have to worry about the significant modern cities sitting right in the way of where we’d like to do the archaeology, who knows what might be dug up? Another find like the Dead Sea Scrolls is not beyond the bounds of realism. Given the constraints, though, it’s not likely to happen, so what we find are little things, for example ongoing archaeology at the Pool of Siloam. We’ve discovered the site was much bigger than we’d thought. Pilgrims coming to Jerusalem for festival time, who needed to be ritually clean, would walk down one set of steps into a kind of outdoor bath, and come up on the other side, the clean side. Sceptics have questioned how 3,000 people could have been baptised in one day after Pentecost. Well, we now know there was likely to be that many people being immersed in these pools every day at festival time.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in New Testament studies?
Start with one of the very good study Bibles — I happen to think the NIV and ESV are the two best out there — and read not only the text but the notes. I was on the committee to revise the 35th anniversary of the NIV Study Bible, which comes out this year. The footnotes in a good study Bible have been produced by committees of scholars who have spent countless hours asking what are the most important things to give people in this kind of context. We might not always come to the right conclusions, but at least we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it.