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 studyÂ 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?”