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biblical theology

Childs on the Development of Biblical Theology as a Discipline

Posted by on Jan 6, 2010 in biblical theology | Comments Off on Childs on the Development of Biblical Theology as a Discipline

It has long been recognized that the term “Biblical Theology” is ambiguous. It can either denote a theology contained within the Bible or a theology that accords with the Bible. The first definition understands the task of Biblical Theology to be a descriptive, historical one that seeks to determine what was the theology of the biblical authors themselves. The second understands the task of Biblical Theology to be a constructive, theological one that attempts to formulate a modern theology compatible in some sense with the Bible. From one perspective, the entire modern history of the discipline of Biblical Theology can be interpreted as the effort to distinguish between these two definitions and to explore the important implications of the distinction. (Brevard S. Childs, Biblical Theology: A Proposal, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993, p. 1)

I believe the distinction that Childs makes is valid and important. I would then go a step further and say that our Biblical Theology (in the sense of a theology contained within the Bible) should come first, and should then shape our “modern theology.”

Schnelle on Biblical Theology and History

Posted by on Jan 4, 2010 in biblical theology, books | Comments Off on Schnelle on Biblical Theology and History

Since a theology of the New Testament must both (1) bring the thought world of the New Testament writings into clear focus and (2) articulate this thought world in the context of a contemporary understanding of reality, it has to work with different temporal planes. Its task is to envision the past in view of the present, to explicate it in such a way that its future relevance can be seen. New Testament theology is thus linked into the question of the lasting significance of past events. So it is always a historical discipline, and as such it must participate in theoretical debates on the nature and extent of historical knowledge. Thus the discipline of New Testament theology is involved from the start in the deliberations of the philosophy of history, how history as past reality is grasped, and which categories play a central role in this process. (Udo Schnelle. Theology of the New Testament. Trans. by M. Eugene Boring; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007. pg 25)

Thielman and Two Problems of Biblical Theology

Posted by on Dec 22, 2009 in biblical theology | Comments Off on Thielman and Two Problems of Biblical Theology

[T]wo problems with the discipline [of New Testament Theology] have repeatedly emerged as most significant.

The first problem, it is said, is an unhealthy blend in the discipline of dogmatics with historical concerns. On the one hand, theological convictions influence New Testament theologians both in the conclusions they draw about the meaning of the New Testament texts and in their insistence on examining only the canonical documents. On the other hand, since the church values these documents largely for the historical claims made in them, New Testament theologians find that they must work as historians in much the same way that any historian would work with ancient texts. Is it possible to bring together faith and reason in this way, or must New Testament theologians bracket their own dogmatic presuppositions about the importance of the New Testament and place the canonical texts on a level with all other ancient texts? If so, then they should shift their attention away from the theologically biased investigation of “New Testament theology” to the more objective and universally useful task of describing the history of early Christian thought.

The second problem arises from the theological diversity of the New Testament texts. The New Testament documents not only express a variety of theological themes, but sometimes they speak in different ways on the same theme. Do these differences sometimes amount to contradiction? If not, why is the theological coherence of the New Testament sometimes so hard to detect? If so, is it accurate to speak of “New Testament theology” at all, as if we are speaking of some coherent whole? (Frank Thielman, Theology of the New Testament: A Canonical and Synthetic Approach, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005, pg 19)

Good things to consider and questions that must be answered when beginning a study of biblical theology or New Testament theology.

Carson on Systematic Theology and Biblical Theology

Posted by on Dec 19, 2009 in biblical theology | Comments Off on Carson on Systematic Theology and Biblical Theology

Although both [systematic theology and biblical theology] are text based, the ordering principles of the former are topical, logical, hierarchical, and as synchronic as possible; the ordering principles of the latter trace out the history of redemption, and are (ideally) profoundly inductive, comparative and as diachronic as possible. Systematic theology seeks to rearticulate what the Bible says in self-conscious engagement with (including confrontation with) the culture; biblical theology, though it cannot escape cultural influences, aims to be first and foremost inductive and descriptive, earning its normative power by the credibility of its results. Thus systematic theology tends to be a little further removed from the biblical text than does biblical theology, but a little closer to cultural engagement. Biblical theology tends to seek out the rationality and communicative genius of each literary genre; systematic theology tends to integrate the diverse rationalities in its pursuit of a large-scale, worldview-forming synthesis. In this sense, systematic theology tends to be a culminating discipline; biblical theology, though it is a worthy end in itself, tends to be a bridge discipline. (D.A. Carson, “Systematic theology and biblical theology,” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Downers Grove: IVP, 2000, p. 102-103)

Scobie on Approaches to Biblical Theology

Posted by on Dec 17, 2009 in biblical theology | 2 comments

Everyone who attempts the writing of a BT [Biblical Theology] (or an OT or NT theology for that matter) must adopt a structure of some kind. This is much more than simply a question of the order of chapters in a book, or of suitable titles for these chapters; it goes to the very heart of the understanding of the nature of BT…

The danger to be avoided at all costs is that of imposing an alien pattern upon the biblical material; so far as is humanly possible, the structure employed should be the one that arises out of the biblical material itself…

A survey of approaches that have been adopted in the past will provide some guidance and some necessary cautions as well. It is helpful to distinguish what may be termed the “systematic,” the “historical,” and the “thematic” approaches, provided it is recognized that these are only general classifications; particular theologies may not always fall clearly into one or another of the categories, and certainly there are hybrid types…

A systematic approach, based on categories imported from dogmatic theology, is to be rejected as tending to a certain degree to distort biblical thought, and as failing to deal adequately with all aspects of the biblical material. A historical approach tracing the development of biblical thought period by period or book by book is of course valuable, but it belongs rather to the kind of historical study of the Bible that is presupposed by, rather than part of, an “intermediate BT.” The most satisfactory approach is clearly the thematic one that seeks to construct an outline based as closely as possible on themes that arise from within the Bible itself. Within this option, it is the multithematic approach that holds most promise… (Charles H.H. Scobie, The Ways of Our God: An Approach to Biblical Theology, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003, pg 81-85)

Theology, Jesus, and Bultmann

Posted by on Dec 16, 2009 in biblical theology | 6 comments

The message of Jesus is a presupposition for the theology of the New Testament rather than a part of that theology itself. For New Testament theology consists in the unfolding of those ideas by means of which Christian faith makes sure of its own object, basis, and consequences. But Christian faith did not exist until there was a Christian kerygma; i.e., a kerygma proclaiming Jesus Christ – specifically Jesus Christ the Crucified and Risen One – to be God’s eschatological act of salvation. He was first so proclaimed in the kerygma of the earliest Church, not in the message of the historical Jesus, even though that Church frequently introduced into its account of Jesus’ message, motifs of its own proclamation. Thus, theological thinking – the theology of the New Testament – begins with the kerygma of the earliest Church and not before. But the fact that Jesus had appeared and the message which he had proclaimed were, of course, among its historical presuppositions; and for this reason Jesus’ message cannot be omitted from the delineation of New Testament theology. (Rudolf Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament; translated by Kendrick Grobel; Waco: Baylor University Press, 2007, pg 3) – italics in translation.

Provocative, eh? What do you think? Agree, disagree? Partially, wholly?

Suggested Readings in Biblical Theology

Posted by on Dec 12, 2009 in biblical theology, books | Comments Off on Suggested Readings in Biblical Theology

If you are interested in learning more about biblical theology, here are a few suggested books. (As with all books that I link to or recommend, this does not mean that I agree with everything in the book.)

New Dictionary of Biblical Theology edited by T. Desmond Alexander
Introductory articles about the various natures and methods of biblical theology, plus articles are various books of the Bible and themes in Scripture.

Biblical Theology: Retrospect and Prospect edited by Scott J. Hafemann
Various authors views of the state and future of biblical theology.

Central Themes in Biblical Theology: Mapping unity in diversity edited by Scott J. Hafemann and Paul R. House
Examples of studying various themes in Scripture.

Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments by Geerhardus Vos
Classic text on biblical theology of the Old and New Testaments.

Biblical Theology: A Proposal by Brevard Childs
Suggestion by Childs that biblical theology should begin with the canon.

There are other good books about biblical theology and other good biblical theologies. I’ll provide links to those in future posts.

Kaiser on Systematic Themes in Biblical Theology

Posted by on Dec 11, 2009 in biblical theology | Comments Off on Kaiser on Systematic Themes in Biblical Theology

Systematic theology has traditionally organized its approach around topics and themes such as God, humanity, sin, Christ, salvation, the church, and last things. By contrast, biblical theology has, more often than not, been a discipline in search of a mission and a structure—often falling into the same topical and structural tracks gone over by systematic theology, even though it severely criticized and stood aloof from systematic theology, claiming it had imposed an external grid (derived from philosophy or the like) on its material. (Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., The Promise-Plan of God, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008, 18)

One of the major difficulties in biblical theology is finding the themes of the study as they arise from the text of Scripture, especially since we generally approach Scripture with “built in” categories.

Schlatter on the task of Biblical Theology

Posted by on Dec 9, 2009 in biblical theology | Comments Off on Schlatter on the task of Biblical Theology

Adolf Schlatter was a very interesting person. He was an evangelical theologian who worked and taught at non-evangelical schools such as Tübingen. He wrote the following in 1923:

The New Testament writings present us with the task of identifying their teachings and of clarifying their origin. We customarily call this branch of historical research “New Testament theology.” By calling this field of historical work “theology,” we affirm that its object is the statements about God and God’s work contained in the New Testament. In speaking of “New Testament” theology, we are saying that it is not the interpreter’s own theology or that of his church and times that is examined but rather the theology expressed by the New Testament itself.

It is the historical objective that should govern our conceptual work exclusively and completely, stretching our perceptive faculties to the limit. We turn away decisively from ourselves and our time to what was found in the men through whom the church came into being. Our main interest should be the thought as it was conceived by them and the truth that was valid for them. We want to see and obtain a thorough grasp of what happened historically and existed in another time. This is the internal disposition upon which the success of the work depends, the commitment which must consistently be renewed as the work proceeds. (Note that at this point we are not studying what the New Testament words mean for us, how they influence our own thoughts and actions, and whether or not and why they achieve over us the compelling authority of truth. At the proper time, however, this question will be very important.) (The History of the Christ, translated by Andreas K̦stenberger, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997, p 17-18 Рemphasis in translation)

Schlatter points out some very important aspects of the task of biblical theology (or New Testament theology in his case). First, the task is primarily historical, meaning that the task of the biblical theologian begins with understanding the writings of Scripture within their historical context.

The authors of Scripture wrote in a way that would be understandable to readers and hearers within their own culture. Obviously, this means that they used languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek) that were in common use at the time of writing. However, there are other historical and cultural phenomenon that would have influenced their writings, from common customs of that day, to idioms of speech, to shared experiences, to government.

Second, the task is primarily historical in that sense that the theologian must be extremely careful not to read his or her own theology back into the Scripture. Now, it may be that the Scripture supports the theologian’s theology, but that cannot be presupposed. Instead, as Schlatter aptly states, Scripture must be studied in order to understand “the thought as it was conceived by them [the writers] and the truth that was valid for them.” This is very difficult for any theologian, so everyone who desires to study biblical theology must attempt to recognize where their own theology is creeping into the study.

Finally, notice that Schlatter says that application must come after Scripture has been analyzed and synthesized into a biblical theology. It is only after we know what the scriptural authors said that we can begin to ask the question, “What does this mean for me and the people in my culture.” Application is very important. Those who follow Christ want to live according to his teaching and according to Scripture. However, we must understand those teaching in context before we can start extrapolating the teachings into our own context.

Types of Biblical Theology

Posted by on Dec 7, 2009 in biblical theology | 4 comments

Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to call this post. The term “types” often generates thoughts of typology or symbolism. That’s not what this post is about. Instead, I want to talk briefly about the different forms of biblical theology. I’m not talking about methodology as much as the form of study.

For example, some biblical theologians study the use of the Old Testament in the New Testament. This is one type of biblical theology. By studying how the NT authors used OT texts, we can begin to understand how they understood their Scriptures (that is, their hermeneutic), which can help us develop our own hermeneutic.

Similarly, some take a historical theology approach to biblical theology. They study the chronology of God’s self-revelation by examining Scripture chronologically (in the order that the books were written). Similarly, some continue this study outside the OT and NT in order to determine how various theologies developed.

However, most studies in biblical theology focus on “themes” in Scripture. The theologians can begin with the traditional systematic categories (theology proper, christology, pneumatology, soteriology, anthropology, ecclesiology, etc.), or they can begin with Scripture in order to determine what themes arise, even if those themes differ from the traditional systematic categories.

Apart from choosing a specific theme (or themes) to study, the theologian must also choose the scope of his study. For example a true biblical theology will examine a theme (or themes) across both the OT and the NT. However, an author may also choose to study a theme in the Old Testament or the New Testament. So, a study of all the theological themes in the New Testament would be a New Testament theology.

It is also possible to limit the scope of the study even further. Some study the theology of the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), while others might study the theology of Psalms. In either case, the theologian limits his study to a specified subsection of Scripture. In the New Testament area, scholars often study the theology of an author (John, Paul, etc.) while others study the theology based on genre (gospel, epistles, apocalypse).

Any of these types of study is valid, as long as the scholar remembers the scope when synthesizing or summarizing his biblical theology. For example, if someone studies the idea of the Spirit of God in the OT Prophetic books, the study should be recognized as incomplete, and only a portion of a study of the Spirit of God in Scripture. Similarly, an investigation of Paul’s understanding of the nature of God is only a part of what Scripture teaches us about God.

Unfortunately, while studies of limited scope lead to a limited understanding of a certain topic, the topic must often be studied in this manner. Why? Because the different methods of studying writings of various authors, genres, and languages and the time involved in such a massive undertaking may prove to be too much for one author. So, the options are to study the theme or theology is less detail over a greater section of Scripture, or study  in greater detail over a smaller section of Scripture.

When reading a “biblical theology,” one of the first questions you should ask is this: “What type of biblical theology is being developed here?” And, similarly, ask, “What is the scope of this study?”