Beyond the Bible: Moving from Scripture to Theology.
I. Howard Marshall.
Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004. 136 pp.

Review by Dr Aquila Lee

Does the Bible regard capital punishment as the appropriate penalty for certain crimes? Does Scripture really teach that women should not be allowed to teach in the Church? If you were seeking an honest answer to questions like these, then this is the book you should read. The volume is a collection of lectures by I. Howard Marshall, with responses from Kevin Vanhoozer and Stanley Porter, a theologian and a biblical scholar respectively. Prof. Marshall is Emeritus Professor of New Testament exegesis and Honorary Research Professor at the University of Aberdeen, and he was my doctoral thesis supervisor at the same institution. This book will not only offer the rationale for your own answers but also criteria for how to go about it.

The book shows how an experienced exegete (he has taught New Testament for more than 40 years) wrestles with major issues that the Church faces today. In his first lecture Marshall emphasizes the important role of evangelical scholars who are committed to both “the academic study of Scripture within a confessional framework” and “Christian witness in the contemporary world” (p.12). According to Marshall, evangelical scholars have made significant contributions in the areas of hermeneutics and exegesis, but more progress is needed with the problem of moving from the Bible to the contemporary world. That is, “how do we appropriate the message of the Bible so that present-day readers may apply it to themselves and the problems that they face?” (p.33). He concludes his first lecture by noting that we should not choose the path of classical ‘liberalism’ or the route of ‘fundamentalism.’ He means by the former “the peeling off of those aspects of biblical teaching about Christian faith and ethics that are held by many people today to be incompatible with a so-called scientific worldview and an ‘enlightened’ understanding of morality.” With the latter Marshall sees the need “to ask whether . . . fundamentalism is a defense of a postbiblical traditional interpretation rather than a willingness to go back to the text and to be led by it” (pp.31-32).

In his second lecture Marshall outlines two current approaches to Scripture. One approach “asserts that what Scripture teaches remains essentially in force today although some teaching may have been given in a situation-specific and culture-specific form, whereas the other allows that there can be and is development beyond scriptural teaching in theology, ecclesiology, and ethics” (p.55). He gives some examples of both approaches to ethics, worship and doctrine and shows that our doctrinal statements in fact go beyond the express teaching of Scripture. He then boldly seeks to “establish principles that are rooted in the statements and the practice of Scripture that will enable us to make progress in framing interpretative procedures and guard us against invalid interpretations and false conclusions” (p.48). Marshall tries to show that there is the need for a principle to guide and govern development beyond Scripture and he sees this as the duty of evangelical biblical scholarship and his ultimate motivation behind his three lectures.

After having shown that there is development of doctrine within the Bible itself, Marshall makes the crucial move. He asserts that  “the closing of the canon is not incompatible with the nonclosing of the interpretation of that canon” (p.54). If “the closing of the canon did not bring the process of doctrinal development to an end,” as he attempted to show in his lecture, then “the question of the interpretation of Scripture remains open” (p.54). The key is then to go beyond the Bible biblically.

In his third lecture Marshall explores the actual process of development within the Bible itself by considering in turn the interpretation of (a) the Old Testament by the New Testament writers, (b) the teaching of Jesus by the early church, and (c) the apostolic tradition by the early church. He finds in the early church the development controlled by various principles that provide us a model for contemporary interpretation: “the shift from the old covenant to the new covenant; the shift from the liminal period to the early church; the facing of new situations, new currents of thought, new errors, and the like” (p.79). This leads him to conclude that developments in doctrine are inevitable even after the closing of the canon.

Some evangelical Christians may be puzzled by, if not uncomfortable with, Marshall’s labelling of Jesus’ teaching as “undeveloped” or “elementary” (p.64) or some other points when he explains development in the early church, but I invite you to fully interact with his arguments offered with great care and persuasiveness.

Here we see an evangelical biblical scholar wishing to go ‘beyond the Bible’ without leaving the Bible behind. In this series of three lectures Marshall makes some creative and important proposals to help contemporary Christians just do that. I truly recommend this book to you all.

CHAPEL NOTES

Chapel on 29 Dec was taken by Dr Aquila Lee. Dr Lee read Gen 17:1-16 and spoke about the confirmation of the covenant that God made previously with Abraham. Circumcision has an important significance as an external sign that separates those who belong to God from those who do not. We as God's people need to show that sign by keeping a lifestyle that is holy and separated from that of the world, those outside of the covenant.

Chapel on 5 Jan will be led by Dr Quek Swee Hwa.

NEWS BITS

  1. A warm welcome to Dr Douglas Milne, our 1st guest lecturer for the year 2005. He will be here with us from 3rd to 22nd Jan 2005.

  2. Do continue to pray for a speedy and complete recovery for Dr John Lim who is still in the hospital.


Courses Commencing ...

  • Tent module: Understanding Culture 
    (starting 4 Jan). 
    Facilitator: Dr Ng Peh Cheng.

  • BG111, 3 credits, video class. 
    New Testament Greek I
    (starting 8 Jan). 
    Lecturer: Dr Quek Swee Hwa.

  • BG214, 1.5 credits. New Testament Greek: Basic Research Tools & Methods 
    (starting 8 Jan).   
    Lecturer: Dr Quek Swee Hwa.

  • BG211, 3 credits, video class. Greek Exegesis I (starting 8 Jan). 
    Lecturer: Dr Quek Swee Hwa.

  • BH220, 1.5 credits. Hebrew Reading 
    (starting  17 Jan). 
    Lecturer: Dr Philip Satterthwaite.

  • OT102, 3 credits. Old Testament Foundations II (starting 20 Jan). 
    Lecturer: Dr Philip Satterthwaite.

  • NT101, 3 credits.  New Testament Foundations I (starting 24 Jan). 
    Lecturer: Dr Aquila Lee.

  • CE355, 1.5 credits.    Child Development & Ministry Formation (starting 25 Jan). 
    Lecturer: Dr Ng Peh Cheng.

  • CO101, 3 credits. The Counsellor as a Person: Self-Awareness & Maturity in Christ (starting 3 Feb). 
    Lecturer: Mr Yam Keng Mun.

  • CM102, 3 credits, video class. Homiletics (starting 4 Feb). Lecturer: Rev Edmund Chan/Tutor: Mr Song Cheng Hock.

  • CH101, 3 credits, video class. Introduction to Church History (dates will be announced later). Lecturer: Dr Quek Swee Hwa. (This is a required course for MDiv students).

  • AT228, 1.5 credits. The Christian Portrayal of Evil (dates will be announced later). 
    Lecturer: Dr Quek Swee Hwa.


Intensive courses by Dr Douglas Milne

  • Theological Foundations I (TS211, 3 credits). Dates: 4, 6, 11, 13, 18, 20 Jan (7.30-10.30pm); 8 & 15 (2.30-5.30pm). 
    This is a required course for MCS and MDiv students.

  • New Testament Ethics (TS265, 1.5 credits). Dates: 5, 7, 10, 12 Jan (7.30-10.30pm)

  • Bioethics (TS270, 1.5 credits). 
    Dates: 14, 17, 19, 21 Jan (7.30-10.30pm)

Please submit your registration now!


 

You are warmly invited
 

to our 14th Convocation & Thanksgiving Service on 15th Jan 2005 at 7pm.

There will be a dinner reception at 6pm preceding the Convocation Service.

Venue: 4 Bishan St 13, Sanctuary

(Zion Bible-Presbyterian Church)

A Blessed Birthday to…

Mdm Agnes Ng  03/01
A/Prof Timothy Lee  04/01
Elder Lim Kim Wah  05/01
Dn Raymond Tcheau Theo  07/01
Mr William Prabagaram  07/01

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