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Marshall on two errors of method in Biblical Theology

Posted by on Jan 28, 2010 in biblical theology | 8 comments

[I]t should be clear that we cannot simply lump all the books of the New Testament together indiscriminately and use them as a quarry for the stones, which we shall use to build our edifice. It would be possible to create a compilation of theological statements from the New Testament that has nothing more than a harmonizing assembly of quotations taken at random from any of its books. Such an approach would wrench the statements out of their contexts and lack the careful examination of their nuances to establish precisely what they were intended to affirm and imply. It would also assume that the quotations will all necessarily reflect the same point of view. But is a collection of texts a theology? There has to be some kind of arrangements. If so, how does one decide how to group the texts? To create a building rather than a cairn it is necessary to have some kind of plan or design.

Consequently, the first approach cannot in practice be separated from a second, accompanying tendency. This is to take over an existing plan such as is found in a textbook of systematic theology without any firm evidence that this framework was in the minds of any of the New Testament authors. However, it has to be said that people who do this are usually quite convinced that their framework is that of the New Testament.

Two errors of method thus come together in this combination of approaches, the indiscriminate use of the books of the New Testament as if they all necessarily reflected identical thinking, and the use of a later framework as if it were that of the New Testament. The result can be distorting and anachronistic. (I. Howard Marshall, New Testament Theology: Many Witnesses, One Gospel (Downer’s Grove: IVP, 2004), p. 24-25)


8 Comments

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  1. 1-28-2010

    I think this quote nails it pretty well. I am becoming more and more convinced that our process of “studying” the Bible, as if it were something that needed to be condensed, systemized, and turned into a list of bullet points to which we subscribe as our “doctrine” is highly flawed. It is, as Marshall says, “distorting and anachronistic.” I would simply add “greatly” before the word “distorting”. ;)

  2. 1-28-2010

    I want to buy the book Unity and Diversity in the scripture, often times we believe there is strict unity. Might I ask you something Alan. Do you believe that biblical authors thought differently about some issues? Or do you believe context may be the cause of that diversity. If so when it is hard to dive into the mind of the writer (yes I know ultimately the Spirit) what do we do? Sometimes this seems to happen from the same Author (Paul).

  3. 3-9-2011

    While I agree with the spirit of what the writer (Marshall) has presented, I do not agree with the content necessarily.

    As I understand it, all of our theology is systematized utilizing the entirety of scripture. We are taught in scripture that we are to treat the Word of God as a complete and whole unit of revelation from God to man, as well as to respect the contextual integrity of each book, chapter, verse , etc., ( 2 Tim. 3:16).

    Indeed we are to study (give diligence) to show thyself approved…rightly dividing the Word of truth (2 Tim 2:15). For instance, Isaiah tells us that precept must be upon precept and line upon line we are to receive knowledge and to understand doctrine (Isa. 28:9-11).

    There are numerous examples of Jesus, Paul, and others that constructed a doctrine or (teaching) and gave insight into the precepts (principles) of God’s Word in this manner.

    We can also see writers of the New Testament referring to numerous passages from the Old Testament in the setting of a book (take Hebrews, for instance). Oftentimes these passages were lifted out of their original context and given New Testament applications relating to the person and work of Christ (Acts 8:30-35; Isa. 53:1-12).

    Let us not forget the work of the Holy Spirit as an integral agency in developing doctrine and imparting revelation and truth. Yet, we as the Bereans must rise to the nobility of searching the scriptures daily to see whether these things be so (Acts 17:11).

    I will admit that not every teacher is called and gifted to do so. As a consequence false teachers will always be among us. However, we must realize that we will never all share the same theological perspective. The dispensationalist and the covenant theologian will still teach their brand of theology.

    In my opinion, as long as truth is presented within the context of the entirety of the Word of God and in harmony with the principle that all of God’s Word is given by inspiration of God; then, I say let the prophets speak and let those that sit by judge.

    Just my thoughts,

    Charles

  4. 3-9-2011

    Charles,

    Thanks for the comment. While taking into account the “entirety of the Word of God” do you think we should also take into account the context of the specific passage in question? What about the unfolding or progressing revelation of God’s plan (especially as it pertains to salvation and God’s relation with his children). Should we take that into account also? Final question: Is a passage about a certain topic or theme simply because that topic/theme is mentioned within the passage?

    -Alan

  5. 3-9-2011

    [Allen] Thanks for the comment. While taking into account the “entirety of the Word of God” do you think we should also take into account the context of the specific passage in question?

    [Charles] Yes, Allen I do… “We are taught in scripture that we are to treat the Word of God as a complete and whole unit of revelation from God to man, as well as to respect the contextual integrity of each book, chapter, verse , etc., ( 2 Tim. 3:16).”

    [Allen] What about the unfolding or progressing revelation of God’s
    plan (especially as it pertains to salvation and God’s relation with his children). Should we take that into account also?

    [Charles] Absolutely, yes… the Bible is not an unfolding and progressive revelation of God’s salvation in Christ, with respect to both Israel and to the Gentiles as well. We must take this into account as we share it with others.

    [Allen] Final question: Is a passage about a certain topic or theme simply because that topic/theme is mentioned within the passage?

    [Charles] No, not at all… Just because a theme or topic is mentioned within a passage does not mean that the context in which the topic is found is the main truth that is presented there. In this case the topic must be studied in context with the chapter, book, etc.

    For instance Joel’s prophecy was used by Peter to explain the phenomenon of what occurred in Acts 2:16-20. Although Peter lifts these verses from Joel’s book, the main truth presented in the context of this chapter in Acts is not the moon turning to blood, etc, but fulfillment of the baptism with the Holy Spirit spoken by Christ and the promise of the Father to pour out his Spirit upon all flesh.

    Blessings…

  6. 3-9-2011

    Correction:

    oops…I caught a big mistake in my post above… sorry…

    [Allen] What about the unfolding or progressing revelation of God’s plan (especially as it pertains to salvation and God’s relation with his children). Should we take that into account also?

    [Charles] Absolutely, yes… the Bible [IS] an unfolding and progressive revelation of God’s salvation in Christ, with respect to both Israel and to the Gentiles as well. We must take this into account as we share it with others.

  7. 3-9-2011

    Charles,

    Thanks again. It sounds like we agree on those issues.

    -Alan

  8. 3-9-2011

    Allen:

    Thank you for meeting such an important need in the Body by providing this forum. I appreciate your ministry very much.

    Charles