Biblical Theology - theology as
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
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
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
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
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
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.