Reviews of Books -- By: Anonymous

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 32:1 (Nov 1969)
Article: Reviews of Books
Author: Anonymous


Reviews of Books

Willi Marxsen: Introduction to the New Testament. An Approach to its Problems. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1968. xiv, 284. $7.50.

We have had theological dictionaries of the New Testament (Kittel’s (WÖrterbuch), theological commentaries on the New Testament (Barth’s RÖmerbrief)—now at last we have a theological introduction to the New Testament (Marxsen’s).

Shall we rise to applaud the appearance of this volume as offering an approach excitingly new, refreshingly different? Shall we hail it as presenting a unique concept in the field of New Testament biblical theology?

For the moment let us remain in our seats and withhold our acclaim. It will not take us long to discover that Marxsen’s work is neither new nor unique. As a theological introduction it offers little more than an up-dating of the material to which some of us were exposed in those compulsory religion courses while in college. The presuppositions are the same, the “assured results” the same—the names are different: Bornkamm, Bultmann, Haenchen, and KÄsemann replacing such names as Paulus, Reimarus, Renan, and Wrede. The end result of all this exhausting research leads to the confession that “there is not a single document in the New Testament that is really of apostolic origin” (p. 282).

And if this volume has any contribution to make in the field of biblical theology it lies buried under the debris of “editorial process,” “church redaction,” and uninhibited “historicizing.” Why bother investigating the documents of the New Testament when “the real Canon is prior to the New Testament” (p. 282)? Indeed, all that we have in the New Testament is “the earliest volume of sermons in the Church that has come down to us” (p. 282). If we ask, Can we get behind these sermons (the New Testament) to the “text” on which they were based?, the answer is, No. Standing behind the New Testament are earlier sermons, the earliest being Mark’s proclamation. Assuming that we can gain a toehold on Mark it is still impossible for us to leap “the generation gap” between the New Testament and the original apostolic proclamation and so to the Canon. Though aware of this “great gulf fixed” we nevertheless press on, for “the historical-critical task of going back beyond the New Testament in search of the apostolic testimony is of great theological importance” (p. 283).

With Marxsen as our guide we take up that search. We follow him as he leads us along a chronological path: Pauline letters, Synoptic Gospels and Acts, pseudo-Pauline letters, church epistles, and the Johannine writings. We soon discover that if we wish to s...

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