Best Books– Part Three


Ian Howard Marshall was someone I could identify with quite readily. He was an Evangelical and he was a Methodist and he was a NT scholar as well. One of his earliest books (1969), based on a thesis was Kept by the Power of God, which made sense of all the apostasy and perseverance texts in the NT. This is still one of the best studies on this particular subject. Howard was a real churchman as well, frequently preaching here and there in Methodist Churches, and he became President of the British NT Society. Widely respected, and modeling the kind of Methodist NT scholar I hoped to be, I read almost everything by him I could get my hands on, as I was also to do with that other great British Methodist NT scholar, my doctor father, C.K. Barrett (see the next post).

One of the earlier studies of Howard that I especially learned from in seminary was Luke: Historian and Theologian. Howard was arguing against the notion either that Luke was no theologian, being mainly an historian, and also against the notion that he was an interesting theologian but not a very good historian. Howard rightly insisted Luke was excellent on both scores. But the real focus of this helpful little study was to show Luke’s theological chops. Towards the end of my time in seminary what was to become a standard textbook entitled New Testament Interpretation which Howard edited and contributed to, came out. This was also the time frame when the ‘I Believe in…’ series really got going. Howard’s I Believe in the Historical Jesus was such a breath of fresh air in the arid environment where Rudolph Bultmann’s dictum still held sway over many (who famously said ‘I now think we can know almost nothing about the historical Jesus’), on the basis of all kinds of presuppositions about form criticism and source criticism which were later to be proved incredibly faulty, and not based in any ancient realities in regard to how Jews passed along their sacred traditions.

While I was in Durham, perhaps Howard’s best and most influential commentary came out on the Gospel of Luke (1978). It was a huge study which made a huge impact showing how critical Evangelical scholarship on the Gospels had come of age. Towards the end of my time in Durham, another excellent study came forth from the pen of Howard entitled Last Supper and Lord’s Supper. My own much later study, Making a Meal of It was very much a continuation of that sort of discussion.

All along the way, and in a way that Fred Bruce was not, Howard was often writing about NT Theology in various forms. For example, his Jesus the Saviour: Studies in NT Theology appeared in 1990, as a sort of prelude to his larger and more definitive study simply entitled New Testament Theology which finally emerged in 2004. Along the way there had been studies on the Theology of Acts which Howard had contributed to and edited (see Witness to the Gospel, 1998). There is so much more that could be said about Howard’s books which were marked by a balance between interest in history and in theology, a deep commitment to the church and to the Gospel, and a pioneering effort to show how critical thinking was not a threat to Evangelical faith. After all, if one is committed to the Truth, with a capital T, then honesty about what we do and don’t know about that truth is paramount.