NEW TESTAMENT THEOLOGY: Many witnesses, one gospel
Posted: 02 Nov 2006 @ 00:00
Inter-Varsity Press £24.99 (1-84474-047-1); Church Times Bookshop
IN RECENT years, Cambridge University Press has completed the series "New
Testament Theology", edited by James D. G. Dunn. Each volume in the series
concentrated on the theology of one book, or a small group of writings, in the
New Testament; and Howard Marshall contributed a study of Philippians to
the volume on the shorter Pauline letters.
His present volume, although more than 750 pages long, has fewer pages than
the Cambridge series, but it is organised in the same way, to allow each New
Testament book to speak for itself.
There are large sections on the Synoptic Gospels and Acts; the Pauline
letters; the Johannine literature; and finally Hebrews, James, 1-2 Peter, and
Jude. This is preferable to the alternative way of doing New Testament
theology, which is arranged systematically by themes, and tends towards
harmonisation from the start.
As with the Cambridge series, too, this volume will be invaluable as a
student textbook and as a wider source of reference.
Serious questions have been raised in recent decades about the viability of
doing biblical theology, from the scholarly point of view. Old Testament
theologians have had to confront this question more often than their New
Testament counterparts, but Howard Marshall is right to commence his
introduction (written at the conclusion of the enterprise) by asking these
awkward questions, in dialogue with Heikki Räisänen's criticisms, and some
examples of good practice.
One of the problems is that many of the New Testament writings are
"occasional", belonging to particular situations rather than being timeless
Howard Marshall acknowledges both the limitations imposed by particular
contexts, and also the multiplicity of witness in individual writings. But he
seeks to identify some unity within the diversity, regarding a synthesis as a
real possibility. As he proceeds, he makes constant comparisons, short of
reconstructing a historical development of theological thought. The broadest
statement of a unifying factor is that all are concerned with Jesus and the
religion that developed around him.
More specifically he claims them as "documents of a mission": the subject is
not Jesus in himself, but "Jesus in his role as Saviour and Lord". The mission
has two parts: the mission of Jesus to inaugurate the Kingdom of God; and the
mission of Jesus's followers to continue his work, effectively "the
confirmation of the gospel" (as W. C. van Unnik described Acts). The Church is
included, not so much as an institution, but - more dynamically - a community
as an agent of mission.
Dr Court is former Senior Lecturer in Theology and Religious Studies at
the University of Kent at Canterbury.
To order this book, email the details to