What is Distinctive about "Biblical Theology" as a Discipline?

This was written for my New Testament Theology class.
“Biblical Theology” is not just theology that agrees with the Bible. It is a theological discipline that differs from other areas of theology and Biblical studies though it flows from some disciplines, such as exegesis, and is foundational for others, such as Systematic Theology.
Biblical Theology (BT) may be better illustrated than explained. BT differs from practical theology in that its purpose is not to prescribe how the church ought to do ministry so much as it describes how something was done or believed at a given point in the history of revelation. It does not provide answers to questions regarding praxis except insofar as it must explain how those questions were perceived, asked, and answered at a given point in salvation history.
BT also differs from systematic theology (ST). Whereas ST seeks to present the teaching of the entire Scripture with regard to a certain topic arranged in a logical order, often expressed via the use of philosophical language or concepts, BT explains a particular doctrine, practice, or biblical truth in the context of the flow of salvation history. While ST presents a final statement on a point of doctrine from the whole of Scripture, BT seeks to understand a doctrine as expressed at a certain point in salvation history.
For example, an ST presentation of the practice of baptism would marshal all relevant texts relating to baptism and, based upon proper exegesis, present the findings as a definitive statement regarding the church’s practice of baptism. BT, however, might ask, “What do Gospels say about baptism?” and then provide a statement regarding the various mentions of the practice of baptism in the gospels, the significance of those statements (grounded upon proper exegesis, of course) in light of their position between the OT and the early church’s practice, and show the trajectory from earlier points in the canon to later teaching in the canon.
BT differs from historical theology (HT) because its focus is not on the history of interpretation of the text so much as it is concerned with the text of Scripture itself. BT is not concerned with the progress of interpretation but the progress of revelation. BT examines not how teachers have taught or interpreted the text as in HT; BT seeks to interpret the text itself in the context of the progress of revelation.
For example, while HT may examine the development of the doctrine of Christ throughout the early church by looking at the early church fathers, laying out the various views held about Christ along with the Scriptures used to support those views, BT will instead take a portion of Scripture and examine what that portion of Scripture says about Christ.
In light of these considerations, one may define BT as the explanation of God’s revelation in light of its progress throughout the history of revelation. Each question or doctrine examined by BT seeks to explain it not only in its context within the book or Scriptural portion, but also in its context in salvation history. For example, BT not only looks at the building of the Tabernacle in terms of its place toward the end of the book of Exodus, but also in terms of where it falls in the history of the worship of the God of the Bible and God’s own revelation of how he wants to be worshipped.
BT as practiced among inerrantists must account for the diversity in the Scripture without sacrificing its unity. This means that one who is theologically conservative and who engages in BT must give proper consideration both to the variety of ways the one true God has worked to accomplish his ends in history, the various ways those actions have been expressed in the records of revelation and to the unity of Scripture as having its ultimate source in God.
Important in this respect is the formulation of the biblical theologian’s presuppositions regarding not only the nature of Scripture, but also of salvation history itself in terms of the level of continuity or discontinuity between Old and New Testaments. When doing BT, one must remember that the acts and actions of history are not mere events, but events that display God’s interacting in the human sphere to accomplish his redemptive purposes for his people.
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About Michael R. Jones

Pastor and PhD candidate writing on Paul's theology of suffering.
This entry was posted in Biblical Studies, Biblical Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to What is Distinctive about "Biblical Theology" as a Discipline?

  1. EXCELLENT! I LOVE GRAEME GOLDSWORTHY. HE INTRODUCED ME TO B.T. SEVERAL YEARS AGO; MY BIBLE STUDY HAS NEVER BEEN THE SAME.I STILL HAVE TO RESIST THE ATOMISTIC WAY I USED TO VIEW THE "VIGNETTS" OF THE BIBLE, BUT I THINK B.T. HAS PERMEATED MY WAY OF DOING BIBLE STUDY. WHEN I PUT IT INTO A "CANONICAL" FRAME WORK, ANY GIVEN PERICOPE COMES ALIVE. I STILL RETAIN A HEALTHY SENSE OF DIVERSITY, BUT THE UNITY IT SETS BEFORE ME IS STAGGERING IN ITS PROGRESSIVE DIVERSITY.

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