the weblog of Alan Knox

Biblical Theology

Posted by on Dec 2, 2009 in biblical theology | 14 comments

Biblical theology is integral to the whole process of discerning the meaning of the biblical text and of applying this meaning to the contemporary scene. (B.S. Rosner, “Biblical Theology” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Downers Grove: IVP, 2000, pg 3).

Four or five years ago, as I was contemplating continuing my studies toward a PhD, I had to choose a major area to study. My first thought was New Testament, and that is a wonderful area of study. I love Koine Greek, both reading and translating, and I’m particularly interested in linguistics and discourse analysis.

However, I decided to study biblical theology. And, as broad as the statement above by Rosner seems to be, I’ve found that it is true. Anyone who has read the Bible and has attempted to apply what they’ve read to their lives has practiced biblical theology.

As a generalist (someone who desires to study many different areas), biblical theology was the right choice for me. Biblical theology touches on many of the other disciplines within biblical and theological studies: New Testament, Old Testament, Exegesis, Systematic (Dogmatic) Theology, Historical Theology, Hermeneutics (Biblical Interpretation), etc.

In the last century (especially the last half of the last century), the discipline of biblical theology changed. New approaches began to grow out of what some called “the death of biblical theology.” These new approaches led to  what we now know as liberation theology, feminist theology, narrative theology, canonical theology, and many others. New authors began to examine the connection between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Centuries-0ld categories (systematic categories) began to be questioned and re-examined.

So, this is the discipline that I decided to delve into. And, I’ve loved it! I loved studying both the New Testament and the Old Testament. I’ve enjoyed reading and discussing books on systematic theology and hermeneutics.

I’ve also found that biblical theology is a great basis for studying the church. I’ve been interested in the study of the church (ecclesiology) for some time now. Combining my desire to understand biblical theology with my desire to study the church seemed natural, and it has worked very well. (Many of my blog posts here were written as a result of that study.)

Now, I’m finishing my prospectus and beginning to my write my dissertation for my PhD. Both biblical theology and ecclesiology (the study of the church) will play a large role in my dissertation. In fact, my dissertation will be a biblical theology of the purpose of the assembling of the church (thus, the title of this blog).

One of the difficulties of studying biblical theology is that there is no agreed upon methodology. Almost every scholar agrees that biblical theological methodology begins with exegesis. But, methodological differences begin there: What passages should be exegeted? How should they be exegeted? How should those passages be combined with other passages? How should the theology be applied in contemporary culture?

And, so, apart from being united in calling their works a “biblical theology”, scholars are usually united in very little else. From their analysis of the text to the synthesis into a theology, different authors take (sometimes vastly) different approaches. Thus, methodology usually determines the result of any biblical theological study.

I’m planning to write several posts concerning biblical theology. Now, I know what you’re thinking… “Who wants to read a blog post about biblical theology, much less several blog posts?” Don’t worry. First, I will continue to write about the church, like I have for the last three+ years. Second, remember that you already practice biblical theology.

More than likely, your methodology (like mine, and most other people’s) is a default methodology based on what you’ve been taught or based on your system of theology. You may find, as I have, that portions of your theology are not based on Scripture, but instead are based on historical, philosophical, or cultural extrapolations.

Hopefully, these posts will help all of us think about how we study Scripture and how we apply that study to our lives.


14 Comments

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  1. 12-2-2009

    Looking forward to them!

  2. 12-2-2009

    Well I am interested in reading posts about Biblical theology, so with Scott that makes two of us.

  3. 12-2-2009

    Scott and Arthur,

    Good… that makes three of us. As far as I can tell, that’s a majority. :)

    -Alan

  4. 12-2-2009

    I’m interested in anything you have to say about biblical theology. Just reading Peterson’s theology on worship at your recommendation–it’s amazing. The one thing that would be very helpful for me is a practical process of doing biblical theology. How do you pick which texts to exegete? Do you read through every book of the Bible semi-exegetically, select the key texts, do your own exegesis of these texts, read the secondary literature, and then begin to assimilate your finds?

    Reading Peterson’s book is both exhilarating and intimidating. Exhilarating because it’s so well done. Intimidating because it would take me a life time to do what Peterson does, and I want to study more than one theme in the Bible in my life time!

  5. 12-2-2009

    I’m interested as well! I can’t imagine it being boring. Challenging, probably, but not boring.

  6. 12-2-2009

    Mike,

    I’m glad that you liked Peterson’s book. Engaging with God is one of the books that encouraged me to pursue a PhD in Biblical Theology.

    Lawrence,

    I hope they’re not boring!

    -Alan

  7. 12-2-2009

    Alan,

    What a great, and much needed service to the brethren, especially those who would do their own thinking!

    As an old timer, I’m looking forward to what you have to say.

    I was convicted, a long time ago, that the “default methodology”, of many years, literally promoted a disfigured and dismembered theology, with habitual thinking built into that methodology as a means of self protection (denominational, institutional).

    That habitual thinking is very hard to dislodge.

  8. 12-2-2009

    Aussie John,

    All of us approach Scripture with a certain bias, whether that bias is “default” (as I called it) or has been thoughtfully considered. For me, the important thing is allowing Scripture to modify that bias.

    -Alan

  9. 12-3-2009

    Just to clarify, are you wondering about a method of biblical theology or biblical theology as a method?

  10. 12-3-2009

    Charles,

    Primarily, I’m talking about a method of doing biblical theology. For example, a method of determining themes and which passages to analyze for each theme.

    -Alan

  11. 12-3-2009

    As I understand it, there are two broad approaches to doing biblical theology. One is to read a book or collection of books with preexisting (systematic theology categories for example) concepts in mind in order to see what the book or books might have to say about the concept. The other approach is to read the book or books in order to see what themes or concepts arise. I personally think that the latter is the better approach.

  12. 12-3-2009

    Charles,

    Yes, I’ve seen both of those approaches in various biblical theologies. However, if we’re honest with ourselves, then whenever we read Scripture our biases will frame the way that we read. So, even if we attempt to “see what themes or concepts arise” while reading Scripture, our previous understanding of “preexisting/systematic categories” will probably affect what themes or concepts we see. The more methodical we can be in letting the text control the themes, the less our own bias will affect our analysis. (Of course, we’ll never be able to remove all bias.)

    -Alan

  13. 12-3-2009

    I’m probably not as pessimistic as you are in our ability to discern themes that arise from the text. For example, one can see that the Holy Spirit is a major theme in Luke-Acts, not because we have a systematic theology category of pneumatology, but simply by observing how often and when and where the Spirit appears in the narrative. One might debate whether Luke’s use of pneuma relates to the Spirit or spirit in a given context, but frequent repetition is a fairly clear indicator of a theme. Once a theme has been identified then the biblical theology part will be to take that raw data and try to make sense of it theologically. The end result is what I would call a biblical theology of the Spirit in Luke-Acts. While our theology and understanding of other texts can influence adversely our reading of a given text or theme , it does not need to be so.

  14. 12-3-2009

    Charles,

    The difficulty in studying a theme for a biblical theology (such as your example of a theology of the Spirit in Luke-Acts) rises when we recognize that we can’t simply study the word pneuma. Instead, we also have to study related terms. In other words, we analyze passages which contain the concept of “the Spirit” even if those passages do not contain the term “pneuma”.

    Also, once we identify the relevant passages, it is then necessary to determine what part the given concept plays in that passage. The fact that an author mentions a concept (or term such as “pneuma”) in a passage does not necessarily mean that the passage in about that concept.

    Our theological systems not only inform us as to which themes/concepts are important, but they also usually tell us which passage to emphasize and which passages to deemphasize when studying a given theme/concept.

    By the way, I do agree that it is possible to reduce the influence that our background, tradition, experience, theological system, and other biases and preferences has on our analysis. But, I think methodology plays a big role in this reduction. However, if the methodology is not considered or followed, then our defaults (background, tradition, experience, theological system, etc.) will tend to sway both our analysis and our synthesis into a biblical theology.

    -Alan