What is Biblical Theology?

Biblical Theology’s Job Description

The principal concern of biblical theology is to trace out the development of major narrative themes within Scripture (e.g. Priesthood, Kingdom, Messiah, etc.) in order to see how the Bible fits together as a single, unified story across its diverse periods and genres. We study these major themes because they act as the ligaments that connect all of Scripture together as one story.

Biblical theology helps us see and appreciate the great consistency of God in his dealings with his people throughout all of redemption history. But biblical theology also helps us recognize and appreciate the diversity and uniqueness of each moment in redemption history.

For instance, the biblical theologian might note that God emphasizes the theme of sacrifice throughout Scripture. They begin by observing that God prescribed sacrifices as an important means for his people of all time to relate to him. But the biblical theologian does not stop there. They note how the sacrificial system of the Levitical Priesthood given under the Mosaic Law differs greatly from what we have today. Biblical theology then asks how we got from there to here.

On the Same Team

Many biblical theologians, though, have been guilty of exiling their would-be partner, systematic theology. But biblical theology and systematic theology complement one another. Both are necessary to our study of Scripture.

Systematic theology orders information systematically, according to logical topics and subtopics. It asks questions like, “What does the bible teach us about X?” Biblical theology, on the other hand, arranges information about the Bible’s various themes chronologically and asks questions like, “How does the book of Isaiah further develop the theme of Exodus initially introduced to us in the Pentateuch?” Biblical theology focuses on the Bible being a unified story and studies the progression of that story whereas systematic theology studies the topics themselves.

If we study systematic theology while ignoring biblical theology, we tend to lose sight of the Bible as story and start to treat the Bible as a reference book. If we study biblical theology without a systematic understanding of the Bible, our interpretation of various passages are at risk of being inaccurate. They become subjective because no normative confession of faith derived from Scripture more broadly keeps it in check. Far from being competitors, biblical theology and systematic theology are meant to be partners who love working together.

Next time, we will discuss some of the benefits of incorporating biblical theology into our study of Scripture. Stay tuned for the upcoming post, “Why Study Biblical Theology?”


Tristan McGrath