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Barr on Biblical Theology as something new

Posted by on Feb 8, 2010 in biblical theology | 2 comments

Biblical theology is something new, in the sense that it is searching for something that is not already known. Biblical theology is not, at least according to its implicit assumptions, something already laid down in a past or ancient tradition: in this sense it belongs to a different category from (say) Calvinist theology or Anglican theology. The theology of the Bible, as most modern biblical scholarship has envisaged it, is something that has still to be discovered. One is looking for it, rather than simply restating something that has been handed down from the past. Naturally, practitioners may well hope, according to their starting preferences, that it will turn out to be rather like (say) Lutheran theology or Methodist theology or whatever their own theological background may be; but what they are looking for is something of a different intrinsic nature. Its base and its mode of scholarly identification are of a quite different kind from the base or the mode of scholarly identification of any one of the traditional theological positions. (James Barr, The Concept of Biblical Theology: An Old Testament Perspective (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999), p. 3) (italics in original)


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  1. 2-12-2010

    This seems to reinforce that bible studies should be bible studies and not studies of biblical principles. Inductive group discovery Bible studies (not everyone sitting around in ignorance saying what do you think this means, but joint effort in learning, discovering truth, and applying it by living it out in mutual edification) would go far to increase Biblical theology, if I am understanding this correctly.

  2. 2-12-2010


    I think Barr is talking about approaching the text without assuming that you already know what the text means (i.e., from your theological background or tradition).

    However, I agree that listening to different voices while studying Scripture together can help us see the text from various perspectives. I’m not suggesting a relativistic hermeneutic, but a community hermeneutic in which everyone within the community is helping everyone else understand the text. (I don’t know whether Barr would agree with this type of hermeneutic or not.)