Biblical Theology*

Biblical Theology - theology as it is understood from the perspective of the biblical writers themselves.

This category of theology must be carefully distinguished from systematic theology, which systematizes and re‑expresses the teachings of the Bible through the use of modern concepts and categories. Biblical theology is biblical because it states the theology of the Bible by limiting itself to the language, categories, and perspectives of the biblical writers. It attempts to arrive at this understanding without modern theological biases or assumptions.

Biblical theology is historical in its orientation.

It attempts to get into the minds of the authors of Scripture in order to arrive at the meanings they intended for their original readers. This means that biblical theology is dependent upon careful interpretation of the biblical texts in their original languages. But biblical theology is much more complex than merely compiling Bible verses on various themes or subjects in the Bible, followed by a summary of this material. This approach would not be sensitive to the various historical contexts and specific emphases of the biblical writers.

Biblical theology does attempt to systematize, but only to the extent that this can be done without imposing an artificial structure upon the biblical writers. The biblical theologian will go no further than these writers went in systematizing their material. His concern is to represent their perspectives as clearly and as faithfully as possible.

Unity and Diversity.

Biblical theology is divided into Old Testament theology and New Testament theology, although the relation between the two also concerns biblical theologians. Further specialization also occurs within both Old Testament and New Testament theologies. Biblical theologians often speak of the theologies of Deuteronomy, Isaiah, Paul, or Matthew. This is in keeping with the emphasis of biblical theology upon the distinctives of the individual biblical writers. But a big part of the task of biblical theology is to pull together the common emphases of the biblical writers and to seek the unity of their writings. Although these inspired writers have different contributions to make to the subject of God and His revelation, their writings are compatible with each other. Thus biblical theology focuses on the diversity that exists within the larger unity of Scripture, and tries to set forth that which unifies, without ignoring the diversity.


As long as the interpreter gives sufficient attention to the distinctives of the various writers, biblical theology can organize its work topically, according to main subjects. But because biblical theology is primarily interested in historical understanding, it is better to proceed chronologically. Thus, the biblical theologian works his way progressively through the Bible, tracing the progress of revelation and the development of theological thought, from the earliest writers to the latest. The focus is not on the religious experience of the people, but on the revelation of God and His people's understanding of His acts.

History of Salvation

Biblical theologians seek to find the best organizing principle or idea that serves as the center of a biblical theology. Old Testament theologians have suggested such ideas as the covenant, the Lordship of God, the presence of God, and the people of God. New Testament theologians have mentioned the kingdom of God, grace, salvation, resurrection, and kerygma (a summary of the main points in the preaching of the earliest Christians in the Book of Acts).

Any of these concepts can be used as an organizing principle, for all the central concepts of the Bible are related. But certainly one of the most helpful suggestions to come from biblical theologians is the idea of "salvation history." This refers to the saving acts of God in history. It is an ideal organizing principle for both Old and New Testaments.

Many biblical theologians believe the most effective way to look at the Bible is in terms of God's special acts of salvation on behalf of His people Israel and the church. But they see these various individual events as a unity, moving from promise to completion. Thus, "salvation history" is a single great plan of salvation that finds its ultimate fulfillment in the work of Christ. Following is a broad overview of the events in this salvation history.

The Old Testament as Promise.

Two basic theological truths of the Old Testament are God as Creator and God as Redeemer. The created order is God's not only because He created it, but also because He is in the process of redeeming it from its rebellion and sin. The Bible is the story of God setting right ehat went wrong with His creation because of the fall of Adam.

The history of salvation begins with the call of Abraham and the covenant between Abraham and God [Gen. 12:1‑3]. This story reaches its conclusion in the coming of Jesus Christ. The election of the nation of Israel as God's special people is not for their sake alone, but for the sake of all the peoples of the world ("in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed," [Gen. 12:3]). This blessing is ultimately experienced by the church through faith in Jesus Christ.

The great redemptive act of the Old Testament is the EXODUS, the deliverance of God's people from bondage in Egypt. This is the Old Testament counterpart to the deliverance brought about by Christ through His death on the cross. Through the Exodus, God revealed not only His sovereign power, but also his faithfulness and the depth of His covenant love for Israel. This was followed immediately by the covenant between God and His people renewed at Mount Sinai and the giving of the Law. God had already entered into covenant relationship with His people and had miraculously delivered them. This means that obedience to the Law cannot be understood as a requirement for becoming the people of God and enjoying His favor. The Law was given in the context of God's grace.

From the perspective of the New Testament, the Law may be interpreted as having several purposes. It was given to instruct the people about the absolute holiness of God and the sinfulness of humanity. The Law also set Israel apart from the surrounding nations in order that the Hebrews might be the pure channel by which the Messiah could come and accomplish His saving work for all humanity.

Through the prophets of the Old Testament the work of Christ was anticipated most clearly. They cautioned the people against presuming upon their relationship with God, as though being a member of the Jewish race were a virtue in itself. And they tried to lift the people's eyes from their national and political concerns to God's love for all nations. God's intent was to transform the entire fallen creation; He was not concerned only with the political sovereignty of the nation of Israel.

All along God was up to something far greater than Israel realized. He was planning to do a new thing [Is. 42:10; 65:17]. The prophet Jeremiah expressed this truth by referring to a "new covenant" which God would establish in the future [Jer. 31:31‑34]. The old covenant, particularly the Law, could not accomplish the goal which God had for His people and His creation. In the new covenant His Law would be written on the hearts of His people, and they would enjoy the lasting forgiveness of their sins.

God preserved His people through the experiences of the division of the kingdom, the destruction of the nations of Israel and Judah, the CAPTIVITY, and the resettlement of His people in Jerusalem. He continued to reveal Himself and His purposes through the prophets, who increasingly spoke of what God would do in the near future. In this spirit of anticipation His people entered the New Testament era with its great announcement of fulfillment and hope in Jesus Christ.

The New Testament as Fulfillment: the Church

The New Testament announced the ministry of Jesus as the turning point of the ages, the beginning of the great fulfillment proclaimed by the prophets. It is impossible to exaggerate the centrality of this theme of fulfillment in the New Testament. The constant use of quotations from the Old Testament in the New Testament clearly demonstrates this point.

According to the first three gospels, the message of Jesus was that the kingdom of God had arrived. The kingdom was expressed in both the words and deeds of Jesus. The presence of the kingdom depends directly on the presence of the Messianic King. With His arrival, the fulfillment of the end time has already begun, although it is clear that the final realization of God's purpose remains yet in the future.

The death of Jesus was important as the basis of the kingdom. The rule of God cannot be experienced in any age, present or future, without the atoning sacrifice that reconciles sinners with a holy God. Thus the death of Jesus became central for the theology of the New Testament. But the resurrection was equally important. In this event, the new order of the new creation broke directly into the present age. The resurrection of Christ was assurance of the truths which He had proclaimed, as well as the resurrection of the dead at the end of time.

The pouring out of the Holy Spirit at PENTECOST depended on the finished work of Christ in His death and resurrection. This was a certain sign of the new age brought by Christ and the mark of the new people of God, the church. The ministry of the Spirit guarantees that the results of Christ's work are experienced in the believer's life until Jesus returns to earth.

In the sermons preached by the first Christians (in the first half of the Book of Acts), we see the main points of the faith of the early church. In fulfillment of prophecy, Jesus was born of the line of David, was crucified, died, and was buried. But He arose from the dead and will return some day as Judge. The possibility of repentance and salvation is thus founded directly on these saving acts of God in His Son.

The letters of the New Testament contain interpretation and application of these events. The letters, or epistles, are divided into two main sections‑‑ doctrine and ethics. In the doctrinal sections of these letters, the meaning of Christ's work is described. The ethical sections always build on the doctrinal foundations, instructing Christians on how to live the Christian life.

In both the doctrinal and the ethical sections of the epistles, the excitement of the fulfillment experienced through Jesus Christ always is foremost. The work of Christ, particularly in the Cross and the Resurrection, is considered the saving act of God. These are compared to the saving acts of God in the Old Testament. Thus, in biblical theology, the promises of God in the Old Testament are fulfilled in God's great act of redemption through His Son in the New.

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