13 July 2011

Book Review: The New Testament Documents – are they reliable? by F.F. Bruce

It has to be noted that it is quite a short book (123 pages excluding preface, bibliography, etc.) though it does pretty much what it says on the tin by looking at some of the evidence in support of the reliability of the New Testament. Regardless of whether you agree with Bruce’s analysis, it has been a hugely influential book in modern christian thought.

In Bruce’s analysis, he does skim on some of the detail which I admit frustrated me a little. For example, in the first chapter, he looks at the date of the authorship of the books of the New Testament. I felt that this was a little too brief and that there could be plenty of arguments posed for dates slightly later than Bruce supposes.

After looking at the dates, he begins to look at the contents of the gospels, the importance of Paul’s writings, the historical detail in Luke’s writing (in particular, the book of Acts), before going on to look at other evidence outside of the New Testament such as archaeological evidence and other non-christian written sources.

The book serves as a great introduction to the subject of biblical criticism as a defence for its authenticity, though it is by no means a comprehensive survey. The non-canonical writings of the early church and of the gnostics are given extremely little space. But it is nothing more than an introduction. For the open-minded sceptic, who is willing to engage with the evidence and is looking for a comprehensive review, this is not the most convincing case. There are some gems to be found, though most of them lie towards the front of the book.

In the version I have, there is a great preface written by N.T. Wright, in which he sums up quite well the best use for this book: “The [person] who reads Bruce today will want to supplement him by reading judiciously in more recent writers. But he remains an excellent foundation.”

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