As a Biblical Theologian, I am often been asked what in the world is Biblical Theology? It is a difficult question:
Wikipedia’s definition acknowledges this problem:
Biblical theology for the most part is a Christian approach in which the theologian studies the Bible from the perspective of understanding the progressive history of God revealing Himself to humanity following the Fall and throughout the Old Testament and New Testament. It particularly focuses on the epochs of the Old Testament in order to understand how each part of it ultimately points forward to fulfillment in the life mission of Jesus Christ. Because scholars have tended to use the term in different ways, biblical theology has been notoriously difficult to define.
Clear as mud, huh? Oh, and to make matters more difficult most Biblical theologians would disagree with this definition. Probably what would be best is for me to define what I mean by Biblical Theology.
1. Biblical Theology Involves the Bible: Duh, huh? It does need to be said that the Bible is the authority of Biblical Theology and not much else. What I mean by that is that the Biblical theologian does not much concern himself with historical theology or systematic theology. In fact he distrusts both. Traditions can be wrong due to poor reasoning or prejudice. Systems do not sit well with the Biblical theologian either, it pens him or her in and doesn’t allow him to do the next characteristic of Biblical Theology.
2. Biblical Theology Attempts Look at The Bible with Fresh Eyes and Minimal Assumptions: This is why Biblical Theologians do not like systems; a system of theology is loaded with assumptions. The reason the word ‘attempts’ is used is because as hard as we may try we all carry assumptions with us to the text of Scripture. The Biblical theologian recognizes this but attempts to block his or her assumptions and try to see the text as the original readers would have seen it.
3. Biblical Theology is Concerned with the Progressive History of the Bible: A Biblical Theologian loves a chronological Bible and looks at how God has revealed himself in history. Perhaps a ‘for instance’ is in order: In Genesis, Jacob’s Daughter is raped and Jacob does not do anything about it. Two of his sons however kill the rapist and Jacob curses them for it. At that time, it would seem that God’s word would be advocating that rape should not be punished. Later when the Law is given though, Moses specifically condemns rape and gives it the death penalty. This does two things, it defines what God’s will concerning rape and looking back it vindicates Simeon and Levi who did the right thing while their father did the wrong thing. It also helps us understand why the curses of Jacob uttered toward his two sons do not seem to work.
4. Biblical Theology Tries to Understand What the Originally Hearers or the Ones Experiencing God Action in Biblical History Would have Understood Without Looking Ahead: Example: If I am studying Genesis 6, I can only use the events of Genesis 1-5 to help me understand what they would have understood at that time. By the time I get to Genesis 50; however, not only can I use Genesis 1-49, but the book of Job as well as the events in The Book of Job happen sometime in the areas of Genesis 11 or 12. The first concern is chronology of events and then when in those events other things happened: like when the prophets spoke in the Old Testament history or when Paul wrote each letter in the New Testament history. As a Biblical Theologian, I have a deep understanding that the events and thoughts of the New Testament can only be understood when I have grasped the events and thoughts of the Old Testament
5. Most Biblical Theologians Have Method for Doing This: In my case, I follow what is called the Methodical Bible Study Method:
Step One: Observe What the Passage Says – What Does it Say? It is also important to look at what it does not say. What is the context of the passage both grammatically and culturally? This is without a doubt the longest step and it involves asking a lot of questions without giving a lot of answers.
Step Two: Interpret What it Means – What Does it Mean? First and foremost, what did it mean to the original people hearing or seeing what the passage is talking about? At this point I pay a particular mind to where the passage is chronologically. Once I determine what it meant for the original people involved, I ask what it should mean for us today.
Step Three: Apply Its Meaning to Life – How does it apply to me, God’s people and the world? What should change about belief and practice in myself and others because of what the passage means?
Step Four: Contextualize These Understanding with Previous Studies – How do these new understandings shape or change what I already understand from previous studies of the Scripture? This is what makes Biblical theology a continuing, growing and organic process. You can never finish because every time you study the Bible something about you or your understandings of God and the universe change.
Hope that Helps you understand where I am coming from when I say ‘Biblical Theology’.