Many in the world of NT scholarship were saddened to hear of the death of I Howard Marshall (1934–2015) last Saturday after a short illness. Howard was professor emeritus of New Testament exegesis and honorary research professor at the University of Aberdeen, and he was widely recognized as one of the leaders of the second generation of evangelical New Testament scholars. I wrote the following reflection for Evangelical Alliance.
I have always struggled a bit to make sense of those who pit believing faith against academic integrity. Quite often it is expressed by those who have escaped from an ‘unthinking’ evangelicalism or fundamentalism, who now ‘realise’ that life is not as straightforward as they were told, so now embrace a more ‘open’ position. But it is also expressed by those who want to hold on to a ‘simple’ faith, and think that asking questions is dangerous and unnecessary.
I have struggled with both these kinds of separation between thinking and believing, since I have never felt the need either to protect my faith from questions, nor to abandon what I believe because it is unreasonable. And this in turn arises from the debt I owe to the excellent teachers who have formed my faith and thinking, prominent among them Howard Marshall.
I bought his I Believe in the Historical Jesus when I was a teenager, and it modelled for me the kind of careful, thorough, responsible and believing scholarship which was the hallmark of all Howard’s work. When I came to study theology myself, his writing on the New Testament and the kingdom of God was an invaluable touchstone. And his NIGTC commentary on Luke was at first a significant challenge, as I was inducted into the disciplines of responsible study, but then a treasure trove of exploration and insight, showing how potent could be this kind of careful attention to the detail of the text. In its clear engagement with scholarship, mostly of different views, it epitomised the idea of reasonable faith in exegesis. For many years I consulted it even when preaching on parallel passages in the other synoptics, such was its careful attention to questions of redaction.
When I came to meet Howard in person, through the British New Testament Conference and the Tyndale Fellowship, I realised that all this was not simply a question of professional conviction, but of personal commitment. His example of personal warmth and continued involvement in church ministry were integral to this.
Along with Dick France, Tom Wright and Stephen Travis, Howard was part of a generation who led a renaissance in serious evangelical scholarship in Britain, which has transformed the field of New Testament study and contributed to renewal in the Church. For that, I am profoundly grateful to God.
I was lucky to get to know him a little after his retirement because he was a regular at the British New Testament Conference. He had been president of the society, and his name was on the bank account. He always showed great humour when I asked him to sign all our cheques. He said that he enjoyed spending other people’s money.
Prof. Marshall was always encouraging and gracious to younger scholars. I remember in particular his kindness in providing feedback on a paper I gave on the first beatitude, which later became Chapter 7 of The Case Against Q. He was not at all convinced! Like most evangelicals of the day, including his teacher F. F. Bruce, he was wedded to Q. I have often consulted his commentary on Luke, which may be his finest and most important book.
Just yesterday I was reading his volume Origins of Christology and it reminded me of the stature of his work and even his boldness in going against (at the time) the scholarly grain.
Howard’s influence is not simply through his many writings, but also through the 30-40 PhD students he supervised, people like Craig Blomberg, Ray Van Neste, Gary Burge, Joel Green, and Darrell Bock! So many fine evangelicals scholars were made into capable researchers at the stables of Aberdeen thanks to Howard. No wonder he was the recipient of two festschrifts….
And he identifies an important influence that is often missed:
A little known fact about Howard is that he is one of the root causes of Open Theism! Clark Pinnock read Howard’s Kept by the Power of God, which made him drop the “P” from “TULIP” which had a domino effect that drove Clark Pinnock to embrace Third Wave Charismatic Renewal and eventually Open Theism. So for Open Theism, blame Howard for getting the ball rolling on that one!
Stanley Porter sums up his importance for evangelical scholarship:
Professor Marshall represents, I believe, the kind of evangelical scholar that many of us hope to emulate but usually fall far short of achieving. By this I mean that he was clear in his fundamental convictions, devoted to the text as God’s word, and not concerned to fulfill the agenda of others. I, and evangelicalism as a whole, will greatly miss Professor Marshall.
Howard also contributed to the Grove Biblical series, reviewing scholarship on Jesus at the turn of the millennium.
Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, would you consider donating £1.20 a month to support the production of this blog?