New Testament Theology: Many Witnesses, One Gospel

By Matera, Frank J. | Interpretation, January 2006 | Go to article overview
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New Testament Theology: Many Witnesses, One Gospel

Matera, Frank J., Interpretation

New Testament Theology: Many Witnesses, One Gospel by I. Howard Marshall InterVarsity, Downers Grove, 2004. 765 pp. $40.00 (cloth). ISBN 0-8308-2795-1.

THE GENRE OF NEW TESTAMENT THEOLOGY has been dominated by, and has lived under the shadow of, Rudolf Bultmann's magisterial Theology of the New Testament (German original, 1948). Other New Testament theologies followed in the next forty years but, apart from the work of Leonhard Goppelt, they paled in the light of Bultmann's brilliant though flawed synthesis, leading many to wonder if this historically Protestant project had run its course. Since the 1990s, however, there has been a resurgence of New Testament theology. Klaus Berger, G. B. Caird, Joachim Gnilka, Ferdinand Harm, Hans Hübner, Georg Strecker, Peter Stuhlmacher, François Vouga, and Ulrich Wilckens have written, or are in the process of writing, significant New Testament theologies, often in new and refreshing ways. This renewal of the discipline suggests that the long shadow of Bultmann is finally receding.

I. H. Marshall's New Testament Theology: Many Witnesses, One Gospel is part of this renewal. Written with the needs of students and pastors in mind, it stands within the Evangelical tradition represented by the New Testament theologies of George Eldon Ladd and Donald Guthrie, although it organizes and presents its material differently. It is deeply indebted to, and appreciative of, the works of Stuhlmacher and Hahn, but it does not attempt to reproduce the magisterial syntheses that they have achieved.

Marshall is aware of the difficulties that any scholar, even a great scholar, faces when writing a New Testament theology. What is the goal and purpose of such a work? How should the material be organized? Should the theology of Jesus be part of such a work? How is New Testament theology related to systematic theology? In Marshall's view, "the aim of students of New Testament theology is to explore the New Testament writers' developing understanding of God and the world, more particularly the world of people and their relationship to one another" (p. 23). Consequently, a New Testament theology is not a history of the early church; nor is it a study of the religion of early Christianity, although elements from both disciplines will and should be found in it. Rather, it is a genuine work of theology inasmuch as it should present what the New Testament says about God, Christ, and the Spirit in relationship to the world of human beings.

But how does one get at and present this theology? Marshall dismisses two approaches as erroneous: 1 ) the indiscriminate use of the New Testament writings as if they all expressed the same thing; and 2) the imposition of a later framework of systematic theology upon the material as if it were the framework of the New Testament. Moreover, although he understands the value of other approaches, such as comparing the manner in which different New Testament writings approach specific theological topics or tracing the historical growth and development of the theological ideas of the New Testament, Marshall chooses to examine the theology of each of the writings of the New Testament individually in order to determine to what extent their diverse theologies cohere so that one can speak of the unity of the theology in the New Testament. If the first task of New Testament theology, then, is to catalogue the theology of the various writings, the second is to compare these theologies in order "to establish the extent and nature of the unity and diversity" (p. 30) in the New Testament. The subtitle of Marshall's work aptly summarizes these tasks: "Many Witnesses, One Gospel."

Marshall organizes the New Testament writings into four groups: 1) The Synoptic Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles; 2) The Pauline Letters; 3) The Johannine Literature; and 4) Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, and Jude. He includes the message of Jesus within the first group as an integral part of the theology of the Synoptic Gospels because he views the message of these Gospels as essentially faithful to the message of Jesus.

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