Tribute to I. Howard Marshall (1934-2015)
December 19, 2015
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
Dr. Jon Laansma, Associate Professor of Ancient Languages and New Testament at Wheaton College, joins us today with an appreciation for the life of Dr. I. Howard Marshall who passed away on December 12, 2015. Dr. Laansma studied under Dr. Marshall at the University of Aberdeen.
Rev. Prof. Ian Howard Marshall studied at Cambridge University (BA) and the University of Aberdeen (MA, BD, PhD). He taught in the field of New Testament studies at the University of Aberdeen from 1964 to 1999. After retiring he carried on as Honorary Research Professor. He published major works on Luke–Acts, the Letters to Timothy and Titus, and New Testament Theology, among many other things.
In the week since his passing several tributes have been written: Ray Van Neste, Steve Walton, Darrell Bock, Michael Bird, Stanley Porter, and others (Eerdmans, Tyndale House, Christianity Today [the last mistakenly asserts that Stanley Porter was one of Prof. Marshall’s PhD students]). While he was still active, two collections of essays were published in his honor: Joel Green and Max Turner, eds, Jesus of Nazareth: Lord and Christ; and Jon Laansma, Grant Osborne, Ray Van Neste, eds, New Testament Theology in Light of the Church’s Mission. The latter contains a full bibliography of his writings to that point and also a fine biography that reveals as much of the man as his work.
When I was completing my MDiv at Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary, having been encouraged to pursue a role in higher education, I considered where best to undertake a PhD program. One of my professors, Howard Burkeen, had studied under Prof. Marshall at the University of Aberdeen. He suggested that I apply at Aberdeen and offered to write a letter in support. I did not need any convincing, having already learned so much from Howard’s (he preferred to be addressed as such) writings. It was not firstly his conclusions that I admired, though they were always well-established and, yes, agreeable to my own outlook, but especially his way of getting there. Here was a steady, calm, sensible, thorough, and competent approach to reading biblical texts. If one knew something of the broader scholarly conversation it was immediately apparent that Howard was a master not only of the range of views but of what drove them. Always respectful of insight wherever it was to be found, he was capable of sifting the data and arguments into logical clarity and good writing. He seemed to have no axe to grind. He seemed to have no interest in making a name for himself. He simply set about good exegesis in the interest of sound historical knowledge and theological understanding. His conviction was that the only acceptable response to work with which we disagreed was better work. His approach modeled Christian biblical scholarship like few others. It was a happy day when I picked up the phone and heard his voice informing me that shortly I would be receiving an official letter of acceptance to Aberdeen.
In my experience, Howard’s manner of advising was on the minimalistic end of the scale. When I had completed a section or chapter of writing I would submit it to him and a meeting would be scheduled. When we met he was friendly, even warm, but not chatty. One did not expect to be praised. If there were problems with the work, he would point them out. A green light to proceed meant success. It was necessary to listen carefully to what he said, for as in his published writings he was not given to tossing out half-formed ideas or saying things twice. His manner both in these sessions and in general was humble but sure, with a ready smile. Something of this can be seen here in spite of that interview’s formal (and somewhat dated) character.
Spending the years of dissertation writing with him enabled us to see him in his home and in connection with his church. No doubt this was as formative for his advisees as the academic counseling he gave them. To the anecdotes shared by others I add just one of my own and one shared with me by a friend: Howard had the habit of riding his bicycle to his office in King’s College. One rainy morning I in my Corolla passed a biker in a yellow, hooded jacket heading down the slippery, narrow cobblestone lane that approached College Bounds. There were many bikers around Old Aberdeen but of course as I brushed past this one I immediately recognized who he was and contemplated with horror the possibility that I might have been responsible for running over a man revered and loved by so many, not to mention my own adviser.
Another story illustrates Howard’s humility and heart for the church: Our pastor in Aberdeen, Alistair Brown, told of how Howard and Joyce (Howard’s first wife) invited Alistair and Alison to their home shortly after the Browns’ arrival in Aberdeen in 1986. Howard spoke encouragingly and their subsequent friendship paved the way for a variety of joint ministries. At one point Howard asked if Alistair would speak to Howard’s children’s Bible club on a Sunday afternoon. “I was happy to take part,” said Alistair, “and was amazed at how well Howard knew these children aged from about eight to twelve. I realized that one of the world’s foremost New Testament scholars was spending every Sunday afternoon telling little children about Jesus.”
The other tributes linked above fill out much more of Howard’s life and work. His influence was enormous, and it will continue through both his writings and his many students, among whom are Darrell Bock (Executive Director of Cultural Engagement and Senior Research Professor of New Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary), Craig Blomberg (Distinguished Professor of New Testament, Denver Seminary), Grant Osborne (Howard’s first PhD student and then long-time Professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School), Joel Green (Dean of the School of Theology and Professor of New Testament Interpretation, Fuller Theological Seminary), Eckhard Schnabel (Mary F. Rockefeller Distinguished Professor of New Testament Studies, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary), William Mounce (president of BiblicalTraining.org), and Philip Towner (Executive Director of the Nida Institute). By the end Howard was justly spoken of as the Dean of New Testament Studies. In him it was possible to see that a man or woman of the church could without compromise be a man or woman of the academy, and vice versa. It was possible to see how scholarship could serve the gospel and how the gospel commanded, inspired, and formed faithful scholarship. The two honorary volumes (Festschriften) mentioned above represent his complementary interests in both the past and the present, both his historical investigations and his concern for and involvement in the ongoing mission of the church.
Two brief citations from his writings illustrate both Howard’s style and heart. His technical commentary on Luke is cast in the cool language of philological analysis to the end. In the penultimate sentence of 910 pages of commentary he writes on Luke 24:53, “The addition of ἀμήν in many MSS is due to liturgical usage; it is omitted by P75 א C* D L W 1 33 pc it sa bopt.” With his final sentence he neither resorts to a devotional flourish nor leaves his judgment on what all this means unspoken: “The verse supplies a fitting end to the Gospel with praise addressed to God: is Luke suggesting to his readers that this is the appropriate response for them to his story?”
Again, at the close of his commentary on The Epistles of John, he comments on 1 John 5:21 that, “Having emphasized that Jesus is the true God, John warns against being misled into the worship of any other alleged manifestation or representation of God. . . . The adoption of false gods or conceptions of God is usually associated with sin. John urges his readers to have nothing to do with false ideas of God and the sins that go with them. Today, it is fashionable to imagine that religion and morality are separable and independent; one can be good and righteous without belief in Jesus as the Son of God. John would remind us that apart from Jesus Christ there is no real understanding of the truth and no power to live according to the truth. But Jesus Christ is the true God and the way to eternal life.”
Howard crossed paths with College Church at least once to my knowledge, attending the Greek Exegesis Sunday School class taught by Bob Carlson. On his way to the airport following this visit, during which he would have participated in a variety of academic events, he commented that this Sunday School class had been the highlight of his visit to Wheaton.
All those who knew and loved Howard mourn our loss while we praise God for his life and now for his arrival home.
Jon C. Laansma
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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