I. Howard Marshall (1934-2015)

I was deeply saddened to hear of the passing of I. Howard Marshall.

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 her 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 festschifts.

I got to know Howard during my time in Scotland, in visits to Aberdeen, through the Tyndale Fellowship, and at the British New Testament Society. I had the honour of supervising a PhD with him and learned a lot about how to be a good supervisor from him.

I have several fond memories of Howard.

First, I gave a lecture at the Tyndale Fellowship and kept mispronouncing William Wrede’s name as “Read-ay” rather than “Red-a.” When Howard questioned my pronunciation, I tried to bluff my way through and suggest that maybe it had French roots, but Howard just smiled back and said, “I-I-I -I, don’t think so Michael.”

Second, I remember the committee of the Tyndale Fellowship rejoicing that TGC was taking over the journal Themelios (which otherwise would have simply folded), but Howard wryly lamented that it was such a pity that he could not write for the journal any more, since authors had to be both Calvinists and Complementarians, of which he was neither. (UPDATE: I’ve since learned from TGC HQ that contributors to Themelios do not have to subscribe to the TGC doctrinal statement, only that they should not write anything that might undermine it).

Third, I remember getting an email from Howard asking me to translate Presbyterianism into Methodist so he could understand an EQ submission where a chap was arguing there is no such thing as positional sanctification because the Westminster Confession of Faith does not refer to any.

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!

Of his many books, I will remember his Luke commentary (NIGTC), Acts commentary (TNTC), and Lucan theology. I think his volume Aspects of Atonement is a neglected gem of a book and well worth reading (and he pushes back on his former student, Joel Green’s, critique of penal substitution). His Pastorals commentary for the ICC is hard to go pased too. I have a soft spot for his Why I Believe in the Historical Jesus? And his New Testament Theology is a very readable and rock solid volume, always sensible and even handed.

Howard typified what I would call a “British” evangelical, he was in many ways conservative in his views of biblical criticism on issues like dating and historicity (esp. on Acts), but never uncritical or unreasoned in his approach (like on the authorship of the Pastorals). He believed in the reliability of the Bible, but did not see the attraction of what I’ve called the American Inerrancy Tradition. But most of all, his scholarship was combined with a genuine and heartfelt piety, love for God, and love for others. He was such a kind and gentle soul, he epitomized the notion of a good Christian gentleman.

Howard Marshall was the kind of man who watched his life and doctrine closely (1 Tim 4.16) and we can learn not only from his scholarship but from his example.

I insist that my PhD students read Carl Trueman, “Interview with Professor Howard Marshall,” Themelios 26 (2002): 48-53, which has some great nuggets of advice for young players from Howard.

You can read other tributes by Darrell Bock and Ray Van Neste both hosted at TGC.

A younger generation might want to get a sample of Howard’s work by listening to his 2002 Hayward Lecture on “The Interpretation of the Bible and the Development of Theology.”

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The lectures are also part of a book called Beyond the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004), and I habitually refer students to it to discuss whether we still have to abstain from eating meat with blood in it as per the apostolic decree of Acts 15.

May he rest in peace and rise in glory!

Photo from TGC.