Jesus the Saviour. Studies in New Testament TheologyWritten by I. Howard Marshall Reviewed By David J. Graham
This collection of the author’s work gathers together a variety of pieces in easily accessible form. The dates of the originals range from 1965 to 1988, and though there has been considerable updating, especially of footnotes, this is not thoroughly consistent in all chapters, so that some do not interact with all the most recent work. As the dates vary, so do the original genres of the chapters, from technical papers to more popular lectures. Some have even had a fairly complex tradition history (chapter 12 was also published in Themelios in 1985, but doesn’t own up to the fact!).
The book as a whole is divided along fairly traditional lines into sections on the person and the work of Jesus, both preceded by a valuable three chapters on the aims and methods of NT theology. Within the ‘person of Jesus’ section, we are given treatments of some of the titles of Jesus (Son of Man, Son, Son of God, Lord) as well as other topics (incarnation and myth, christological development in the early church). The ‘work of Jesus’ section is rather more mixed in content and coverage: here we have chapters on some of the classic terms (again, very ‘word study’-centred—redemption, reconciliation, covenant) as well as treatments of the kingdom of God, predestination and apostasy. Inevitably, there is variation in detail and areas covered by such a book. There are two chapters each on the Son of Man and the Son of God, with occasional repetition. And while chapter 4 has no less than 120 footnotes, chapter 10 has only 11.
Jesus as ‘saviour’ is quintessential Marshall. Here is thorough exegesis from a master of the art. He is particularly useful and interesting on the incarnation and myth debate, such as his comments on ‘Son of God’ language being analogical and expressive, rather than explanatory (p. 194). Unfortunately, there is no chapter devoted specifically to concepts of divinity or pre-existence, areas which might merit more attention; and the texts cited to show that Jesus had ‘the religious value of God’ (p. 185) need more explanation.
While what we have here is a robust and classic treatment and defence of orthodox Christology presented as an exegetical tour de force, not all the ideas here will accord with the whole range of ‘evangelical’ opinion (but then whose ever could?): for example, while Marshall sees the value of ‘covenant’ in the NT, there is no place for a developed covenant theology, nor for dispensationalism, nor higher forms of Calvinism; the author’s view of predestination is strictly limited and certainly not double. And those who hold to all five points of Calvinism may find a shock in the last chapter.
Likewise, not all his readers will accord with the opinion that we have ‘a basically unified set of teachings’ in the NT (p. 52), nor with Marshall’s use of ‘Paul’ and ‘John’ as if these groups within the canon had no internal diversity within them. The use of non-inclusive language rings strange these days; and the idea that orthodoxy should be grateful to heretics (p. 182) is interesting! That said, I found myself agreeing with much of the book, yet being challenged to the core to examine the textual basis for Christian doctrines.
Marshall is well able to question and overturn many of the accepted ‘norms’ of critical scholars, too often uncritically accepted, such as the view that Jesus did not think of himself as the ‘son’ (see e.g. Maurice Casey’s From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God, 1991, p. 25). Probably the most important aspect of the book is not only its conclusions on each topic, but the method and manner of arriving at them: judicious use of all the scholarly evidence and critical tools to dissect and often dismantle scholarly ideas, putting them back together in more recognizably traditional Christian form, and on a firmer exegetical basis. The whole method gives the lie to the opinion that evangelical Christians have much to fear, and nothing to gain, from critical scholarly methods.
One cannot read Marshall without rising to the challenge of the sharp thinking of one of the greatest minds today. I hope that this book will appear on many reading lists for degree courses; it will certainly be on mine.
David J. Graham
Glasgow Bible College, Scotland