Book Review: Derek Tidball, The Voices of the New Testament

Tidball, Derek. The Voices of the New Testament: Invitation to a Biblical Roundtable. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2016. 279 pgs., Pb.; $24.00 Link to IVP

In the late 1970s Steve Allen hosted an educational program on PBS called Meeting of the Minds. Actors portrayed various historical figures to discuss history and philosophy, often representing opposing views on various issues. Derek Tidball’s The Voices of the New Testament is something like that television show. He uses the metaphor of a roundtable discussion between representatives of various streams of early Christianity in order to sketch out the basics of New Testament theology.

The Voices of the New TestamentIn the introduction to the book Tidball surveys several recent approaches to New Testament Theology. I. H. Marshall (New Testament Theology, 2004) uses an authorial approach, tracing the theology of individual writers, while James Dunn (Unity and Diversity in the New Testament, 1977) traces the development of several streams of Jewish Christianity. Donald Guthrie (New Testament Theology, 1981) and Thomas Schreiner (New Testament Theology, 2008) use a more thematic. None of these approaches are necessarily fatally flawed, although one may more appealing than the others to particular readers.

These approaches reflect the historic divide between systematic theology and biblical theology. Biblical theology tends to focus on an individual writer (Paul or John) or a particular theme within a writer (a biblical theology of poverty in Luke-Acts, Paul’s view of the future). Systematic theology tends to look at the whole canon in order to develop an outline of what the entire canon teaches. The classic systematic theology uses several loci of theology (Christology, Anthropology), creating a clear outline of what Christian Theology looks like. To a certain extent, systematic stands on the foundation of biblical theology, which in turn is based on exegesis of the text.

In this book, Tidball attempts to blend these approaches in a creative way by allowing all the voices in the New Testament to speak on several important topics. This sounds like a thematic approach (there are chapters on Jesus, sin, atonement, eschatology), but by creating a conversation between ten different New Testament writers, Tidball attempts to create mini-biblical theologies to discuss these systematic theology categories.

What is unique here (aside from the style of the dialogue) is Tidball’s selection of ten voices from the New Testament. Glancing at the index of a typical New Testament theology (or systematic theology for that matter) usually shows New Testament theology’s preference for Paul, and then a preference for the book of Romans. This is fair, since Paul says a great deal about theology and Romans is the closest thing we have to a systematic Pauline theology. It is difficult to discuss justification by faith without focusing on Romans and Galatians.

Rather than placing Paul at the head of a table occasionally letting others have a word, Tidball invites Luke, James, John, Jude, Mark, Matthew, Peter, the Hebraist, and the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke together), To be fair, Paul still gets the biggest say in the conversation, but there are several examples where Tidball begins a discussion with John (on who Jesus is) or Mark (the definition of the Gospel). In the section on adoption as a metaphor for salvation, Tidball begins with John, supplemented by Peter then Paul. Rarely will a systematic theology spend time tracing Mark’s theology, and almost never will Jude be mentioned. In fact, Jude rarely speaks in this book, but it is a very short letter.

In addition to the voices from the New Testament, Tidball includes a chair to guide the conversation and ask the questions as well as an observer. The observer comments appear in grey blocks and offer some exegetical comment or background information to illuminate the discussion.

The book is intended to be an introduction and is designed for easy reading for the layperson who wants an overview of New Testament theology. Given the metaphor of a roundtable discussion, Tidball achieves his goal of describing the common elements of the theology of the New Testament. I have two constructive criticism of the book. First, by using the roundtable metaphor, Tidball has flattened the development of New Testament theology. For example, beginning the discussion of adoption with John obscures the fact Paul used adoption as a way of describing salvation first. Given the traditional authorship and date of John’s Gospel it is plausible to argue John’s views were a development (or reaction to) Paul’s.

This leads to a second criticism. Although Paul and John are given the most text in the book, all of the voices are unified. I anticipated James’ objections to Paul’s teaching on Justification by Faith, but that section only includes Paul’s voice (p. 139-41). Tidball is emphasizing the unity of the theology of the New Testament, but I would have liked to hear James strenuously object to Paul’s teaching of “faith not works.” He does get to this eventually (eight lines, 187-8), plus a page from the observer explaining that there is no need to drive a wedge between Paul and James. Although I do not want to go back to Bauer, I think there was more diversity among the ten voices than Tidball allows.

Conclusion. Despite these minor criticisms, Tiball has written an entertaining introduction to New Testament theology, both biblical and systematic. This book would be an excellent basis for a small group Bible study

NB: Thanks to Intervarsity Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

15 thoughts on “Book Review: Derek Tidball, The Voices of the New Testament

  1. Three QUOTES from above that illustrate the observation of fact I’ve been making for years regarding the “Evangelical Church”:
    “Glancing at the index of a typical New Testament theology (or systematic theology for that matter) usually shows New Testament theology’s preference for Paul, and then a preference for the book of Romans.”
    “To be fair, Paul still gets the biggest say in the conversation,”
    “I anticipated James’ objections to Paul’s teaching on Justification by Faith, but that section only includes Paul’s voice (p. 139-41). Tidball is emphasizing the unity of the theology of the New Testament….”

    But why “beg the question” and assume “the unity of the theology of the New Testament”, while simultaneously giving Paul “the biggest say in the conversation” ??? Why continue to follow the Baals?

    • Since you have no sense of canonical theology it is simply impossible for you to get they point (as usual). The book I review above has no section for Jesus, but rather Mark, Luke, and the synoptic gospels because Jesus wrote nothing. As it turns out Paul wrote the majority of the New Testament and writes the most theological material, so if you are going to write a New Testament theology, it will naturally lean toward Paul.

      Since you reject the Christian concept of canon, you cannot even discuss New Testament theology.

      • Phillip,
        The words of Jesus (His teachings and commandments)
        recorded by His appointed Apostles (Matthew and John)
        should be above the rest of the New Testament.

        (Jesus’ words through Mark, personal scribe for the other Original Apostles, is close behind. Much of Mark is identical to Matthew anyway.)

        This my basic point, and here is some Biblical backup- mostly words of Jesus.
        Matthew 24:35
        Matthew 28:16-20
        John 17:6-26
        2 Peter 3:2

        If you have some Biblical counterpoint, to show me my fault, other than PAUL’s words… 😉 I would love to hear it.

        I note that Paul wrote one third of the New Testament by chapter count, 33.4%. There is no good evidence to even suggest that Paul wrote Hebrews, rather there is internal evidence to the contrary.

        I also note that the terms “canon” “theology” “Bible’ and “New Testament” are nowhere to be found in the text of our “Bible.”

      • So many things wrong here: We can make quite the formidable list of theological terms which do not appear in the Bible yet accurate describe the theology of the Bible, such as trinity and heretic.

        Almost no one wants to defend the Pauline authorship of Paul. That is a red herring you are tossing out.

        Your inability to accept Paul as a canonical interpreter of Jesus makes any discussion with you a dead end. As I have said before, we have no basis for a conversation in this topic since you are so far out of the mainstream.

  2. I’m surprised there is no mention of G B Caird’s New Testament Theology and his Conference Table approach. Indeed this is Caird’s chosen methodology in an elegant and erudite volume which is a joy to read.

    • To be fair, Tidball does mention Caird in his survey of previous NT Theologies, by review overlooks that mention.

      As for why Caird is not at the conference table, Tidball’s voices are all from the New Testament, so Paul is discussing theology with Peter, rather than G.B. Caird discussing theology with F.F. Bruce (however interesting that would be!)

      • It would be nice to hear Jesus discussing theology with Paul, don’t you think? His appointed Apostles John and Matthew recorded His words, as did Mark, the scribe for Peter and other Apostles……..

      • Perhaps you failed to read the review above. The book written by Derek Tidball uses the metaphor of a discussion between biblical writers to present NT Theology. Exactly as you say here.

      • Phillip,
        I did read the review, and he puts “Matthew Mark and Luke” together as one, while John is separate, and it doesn’t zero in on the words of Jesus Himself, but rather on “the theology” of the “writers.”

        As we both know and openly agree, Jesus was not a writer. The Apostles He chose, and walked with, and trained very personally for over 3 years, knew Jesus and knew His voice.
        That means Matthew, John, and Mark as scribe for Peter and others.

        We know Jesus is The Good Shepherd. But whose version you listen to makes a world of difference. Jesus the Good Shepherd speaking, as recorded by Matthew and John, is quite different in character from Luke’s writings of Jesus supposedly telling a parable of a shepherd. Luke’s “shepherd” really isn’t good to the flock. Luke didn’t know Jesus in His ministry, and would not be able to recognize His voice.

      • Please explain where you have access to the words of Jesus outside of the canonical Gospels. Do you also reject the four authors as faithful interpreters of Jesus?

        Perhaps I have misread you all along and you are a Neo-Bultmannian who has a small database of authentic words of Jesus.

      • Phillip,
        …”words of Jesus outside of the canonical Gospels…”

        No, No, No, No, No.

        Among the 4 Gospels,
        Apostles Matthew and John, highest authority level – based on Apostolic proximity to Jesus and His ministry. I understand the true Apostles to be first and foremost WITNESSES of Jesus, His teachings and His ministry – not so much “interpreters”.

        Luke, lowest authority level – because of LACK of Apostolic authority and therefore LACK of access to Jesus during His ministry.

        Rather than dealing in vague generalities, how about we compare the texts of Jesus talking about “Shepherds” in Matthew and John, vs. in Luke. There are not really that many texts to look at, and it’s specific.

      • Wow. That is a terrible answer that lacks any sense of how the gospels were formed and almost no awareness of canonical formation. I would rather find out you were a member of the Jesus Seminar.

        Do you even Q?

      • I am aware the large portions of Mark and Matthew are identical, and some of these are in Luke, and I think some people call that Q. It doesn’t matter too much what you call it- if it’s identical according to two witnesses, Mark and Matthew, that is enough for me, and I believe it.

        There are some parables which exist only in Luke. Some of these reflect God in a negative light, and have no second witness, and they simply don’t seem to reflect the true, holy, faithful, loving character of God –
        an unjust judge,
        an owner who approves of a dishonest manager for embezzling money,
        a shepherd who abandons his flock in the open country, defenseless, and searches indefinitely, by himself, UNTIL he finds one sheep to ran far away, far out of sight….. while “his flock” is left to fend for itself.

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