In terms of content, then, and also in terms of the overall consistency of both content and structure within and between most chapters, all twenty-seven books of the New Testament, for example, are discussed first from the viewpoint of 'theological story', that is, how its actual narrative content unfolds and advances itself; and second, from the perspective of various, frequently although not always or immediately compared 'theological themes', i.e., key themes that emerge, holistically, from each book on its own and later, implicitly and explicitly, in combination. The cumulative effect is one of carefully, steadily pointing out to the reader "stories" and themes that appear and reappear in common throughout the books of the New Testament.
However, that said, a nagging question underlying the whole book lingers for this reader - that of rather or not a unified Christian theology had already been fully formed and solidified, i.e., that is, prior to the writing of any parts of the New Testament (this would likely mean, it seems, that it would have been formed during Jesus' own lifetime and ministry, and/or at least in the early aftermath of his crucifixion); or if that eventual theology instead gradually emerged, piecemeal, as the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles were being written over about a century. or, as a third possibility, the unified Christian New Testament theology to which Marshall points - from both within and across New Testament books themselves - could only, finally, be recognized for what it is by springing fully-formed from the complete New Testament. Marshall never raises these issues.
However, especially if the latter of the possibilities above is not the one that best explains the unified New Testament theology Marshall identifies, how, then, was a mature Christian theology known to each of the different New Testament authors; over 100 years' time; in a way flexible enough to allow each to echo and reinforce, in his own distinct authorial voice that already-unified theology? A reader (or at least this reader) is left with (at best) ambiguous understandings of several key underlying issues necessarily related to Marshall's otherwise well-worked-out premise and arguments. To this writer, the most important of these unaddressed issues is that of how, exactly, the intrinsically unified, implicitly connected New Testament theology to which Marshall refers, based on a New Testament that was entirely finished only by the start of the first century, was actually formed in the first place.
Further; and connected to that unresolved issue, is a related one, i.e.: that of the (in truth unfathomable) identity or identities of who or whom, exactly, actually began and/or helped to form, and/or then continually reinforced, the original and/or then-existing (for those New Testament authors who did not themselves create it) already mature theology of the New Testament? Similarly, and also inevitably, then, Marshall's New Testament Theology: Many Witnesses: One Gospel (2004) leaves unexplored the seminal matter of what key understandings must have existed, and would have had to exist, across impossible-to-determine space and time, among New Testament authors: i.e., over times of individual writing - perhaps continuous, perhaps interrupted; across geographical areas within which texts, or portions of them, were composed and perhaps interrupted and/or re-composed by the original or different authors; within and between Gospels, and within and among all New Testament texts and parts of texts.
Perhaps as an answer (in advance) to "extra-textual" questions like this, Marshall states early on, in his "Preface" to New Testament Theology: Many Witnesses: One Gospel (2004) that the various documents of which the New Testament consists are, after all, and indisputably:
the work of the earliest followers of Jesus, who themselves were, or stood in some close relationship to, some of the original actors in the birth and growth of the church, and they all belong to the first century. There is thus a basis for seeing a possible unity in the very limited area and time in which they were composed.
While it seems true that, at least according to what Marshall describes in his Preface to New Testament Theology: Many Witnesses: One Gospel (2004), there is indeed a likely basis for seeing a "possible unity," in terms of shared structures and themes of different parts of the New Testament; it is also true that 100 years, even by today's standards, in which human beings tend to live much longer, overall, than in Jesus' day, is still a very long time. Moreover, typical human memory; and intra-personal/generational discourses (and full or partial recollections of them) were and are less-than-perfect: therefore, imperfectly reliable. This was and is true of human memory and also of second and/or-third-hand accounts (or even personal recollections, over time) of human accounts and of any person-to-person discourses, by, about, and for humans.
In general Marshall is at his scholarly best when working outward from the New Testament text, that is, exploring themes and content, separately or comparatively, from within the New Testament itself and explaining to readers Christian theological meanings and their shared commonalities. Conversely, though, Marshall is not at his best explaining the New Testament from anywhere outside it. That is a stance any non-religious historian or even a (in this case Catholic) historiographer would also demand that he take at least sometimes, even if that particular stance were not at all a traditional or even at all necessary one, from the author's own perspective of Evangelical Christian scholarship itself. Because he does not ever do so, however; Marshall also does not account for even the possibility of anomalies within and/or among New Testament books and writings that could and may have in fact sprung from conditions well outside actual New Testament writing, i.e., cultural; geographical; temporal; spatial; even personal ones. That, in this author's opinion, is a conspicuous and important deficit of Marshall's book, and one that limits the scope of its ability to be appreciated, as a fully explanatory text about New Testament meaning, by other than Evangelicals.
That said, I. Howard Marshall's exegetical scholarly book on central doctrinal unity to be found throughout the New Testament, New Testament Theology: Many Witnesses: One Gospel (2004) is for any reader, Evangelical or not, an extremely well written, clear, lucid presentation of an Evangelically-centered argument; and is at that a well-articulated argument for the interconnected ideas of a particularly Evangelical (if not universal) Christian reading, interpretation, and understanding of the New Testament, and of a unified Christian theological (i.e., again, strictly Evangelical) reading. "New Testament theology is essentially missionary theology," Marshall states when asked about his authorial, scholarly, and Evangelical Christian intentions for his New Testament Theology: Many Witnesses: One Gospel. If Marshall's premise about New Testament theology as being internally unified and therefore intrinsically, inevitably doctrinal, is correct, it follows logically that New Testament theology in-the-making must have traveled well from the start: across pre-first century time and space up to the first century.
Moreover, doctrinal accuracy of early (i.e., pre -- and ongoing-New Testament) faith and composition must have been, even at that early point of what would become Christianity, not at all fragile to have traveled so well, arriving at myriad destinations across time, space, geography; human limitations of recall; transmission, and long-term memory. Within New Testament Theology: Many Witnesses: One Gospel, Marshall achieves what seems impossible: to make the seemingly incredible seem entirely credible. For that, and whoever his readers may be or believe; I Howard Marshall and this book deserve much credit.
Blomberg, C. An online review of current biblical and theological studies. Denver Journal. Accessed February 16, 2007. Available at http://www.denverseminary.edu/dj/articles2005/0200/0204.html. February 2005.
Certeau, Michel de. The Mystic Fable. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.
The Writing of History. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988.
Evangelicalism. January 28, 2007. Reference.com. Available at http://www.reference.com/browse/wiki/Evangelicalism.htm. February 17, 2007.
Howard Marshall. November 26, 2006. Wikipedia. Available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I._Howard_Marshall.html. February 16, 2007.
Marshall, I. Howard. New Testament Theology: Many Witnesses: One Gospel. Downer's Grove, IL: InterVarsity [sic] Press. 2004.
Pocket Guide to New Testament Theology. [n.d.]. Available from http://biblicaltraining.org/books/PocketGuide/index.html. February 17, 2007.
I.Howard Marshall." Wikipedia. November 26, 2006.
Craig Blomberg, "An Online Review of Current Biblical and Theological Studies. February 2005. Denver Journal [online]
Marshall, New Testament Theology: Many Witnesses: One Gospel (Downer's Grove, IL: InterVarsity [sic] Press 2004), p. 726.
Online full text version, Accessed February 16, 2007.
The full online text of this introductory work by Marshall is available from BiblicalTraining.org. February 17, 2007.
The end, that is, of studying the Bible as Christian (Evangelical) doctrine.
Marshall's considerable skill at clearly synthesizing his own core argument within New Testament Theology: Many Witnesses: One Gospel, i.e., his argument for overriding doctrinal unity with different portions of New Testament text by different authors is abundantly and impressively clear within these pages in particular.
See Table of Contents.
And disagrees vehemently, at the outset, in particular with Heikki Raisanen, who has argued, conversely, (among other things) that "the historical and the…