the weblog of Alan Knox

Types of Biblical Theology

Posted by on Dec 7, 2009 in biblical theology | 4 comments

Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to call this post. The term “types” often generates thoughts of typology or symbolism. That’s not what this post is about. Instead, I want to talk briefly about the different forms of biblical theology. I’m not talking about methodology as much as the form of study.

For example, some biblical theologians study the use of the Old Testament in the New Testament. This is one type of biblical theology. By studying how the NT authors used OT texts, we can begin to understand how they understood their Scriptures (that is, their hermeneutic), which can help us develop our own hermeneutic.

Similarly, some take a historical theology approach to biblical theology. They study the chronology of God’s self-revelation by examining Scripture chronologically (in the order that the books were written). Similarly, some continue this study outside the OT and NT in order to determine how various theologies developed.

However, most studies in biblical theology focus on “themes” in Scripture. The theologians can begin with the traditional systematic categories (theology proper, christology, pneumatology, soteriology, anthropology, ecclesiology, etc.), or they can begin with Scripture in order to determine what themes arise, even if those themes differ from the traditional systematic categories.

Apart from choosing a specific theme (or themes) to study, the theologian must also choose the scope of his study. For example a true biblical theology will examine a theme (or themes) across both the OT and the NT. However, an author may also choose to study a theme in the Old Testament or the New Testament. So, a study of all the theological themes in the New Testament would be a New Testament theology.

It is also possible to limit the scope of the study even further. Some study the theology of the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), while others might study the theology of Psalms. In either case, the theologian limits his study to a specified subsection of Scripture. In the New Testament area, scholars often study the theology of an author (John, Paul, etc.) while others study the theology based on genre (gospel, epistles, apocalypse).

Any of these types of study is valid, as long as the scholar remembers the scope when synthesizing or summarizing his biblical theology. For example, if someone studies the idea of the Spirit of God in the OT Prophetic books, the study should be recognized as incomplete, and only a portion of a study of the Spirit of God in Scripture. Similarly, an investigation of Paul’s understanding of the nature of God is only a part of what Scripture teaches us about God.

Unfortunately, while studies of limited scope lead to a limited understanding of a certain topic, the topic must often be studied in this manner. Why? Because the different methods of studying writings of various authors, genres, and languages and the time involved in such a massive undertaking may prove to be too much for one author. So, the options are to study the theme or theology is less detail over a greater section of Scripture, or study  in greater detail over a smaller section of Scripture.

When reading a “biblical theology,” one of the first questions you should ask is this: “What type of biblical theology is being developed here?” And, similarly, ask, “What is the scope of this study?”


4 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 12-7-2009

    Nice post Alan. There is at least one advantage of limiting the scope in doing biblical theology. Namely, that limiting the scope allows the reader to read the book or author on its or his own terms. For example, doing biblical theology in the epistles of Paul, allows Paul to speak without the interruption of other voices. By illustration, a limited scope allows one to study the trees, whereas a broader biblical theology study looks at the forest. Both examinations are valid. Problems can arise when only the forest or trees are studied exclusively.

  2. 12-7-2009

    Charles,

    I agree. Limiting the scope of study can be very beneficial, and sometimes necessary.

    -Alan

  3. 12-7-2009

    The unique “key that opens all the hidden treasures of God’s wisdom and knowledge” in the Scriptures, viz.: JESUS CHRIST in His perpetual self-revelation as divine only at his perfect and transfigurative death on the cross –the “tree of life” (John 8: 21-28; 10: 1-21; 14: 15-21; 19: 30-37; Col. 2: 2-3; Rev. 5) has nothing at all in common with theology –the “tree of mixed knowledge”. Aren’t the two trees forever mutually exclusive? (Gen. 2: 7-17).

  4. 12-8-2009

    Ephrem,

    To be honest, I don’t know if this is an actual comment or a spam comment. But, I decided to post it anyway.

    My hope is in Jesus Christ, not theology… not even my own theology.

    But, no, I would not say the two are “forever mutually exclusive.”

    -Alan

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Twitted by alan_knox - [...] This post was Twitted by alan_knox [...]