What is Biblical Theology?
The principal concern of biblical theology is to carefully study and trace out the chronological development of major narrative themes within Scripture (e.g. Priesthood, Kingdom, Messiah, etc.) with an aim toward seeing the Bible’s interconnectedness with greater clarity and being equipped to more readily recognize it as the telling of a single, unified story across its many diverse periods and genres. We study these major themes so intensely because they act as the major ligaments which connect all of Scripture together in a meaningful way as one story.
Consequently, biblical theology helps us to see and appreciate the great consistency of God in his dealings with his people throughout all of redemption history while also recognizing and appreciating the diversity and uniqueness of each historical stage of development. For instance, the biblical theologian might assert that the theme of sacrifice is a consistent emphasis throughout Scripture and an important means prescribed by God by which his people of all time are to relate to him, but would also note the manner in which the sacrificial system of the Levitical Priesthood given under the Mosaic Law differed greatly from what we have today and would be concerned with studying how we got from there to here.
Whereas systematic theology orders its information systematically (i.e. according to logical topics and subtopics) and seeks to answer questions like, “What does the bible teach us about X?”, biblical theology is concerned with viewing the Bible as a unified story and studying the progression of that story. Therefore, biblical theology arranges information about the Bible’s various themes chronologically and seeks to answer questions like, “How does the book of Isaiah further develop the theme of Exodus initially introduced to us in the Pentateuch?”
Biblical theology and systematic theology are thus important complements to one another and are both necessary in our study of Scripture. If we study systematic theology in the total absence of biblical theology, we will tend to lose sight of the Bible as story and start to treat it unwisely as a kind of reference book. Likewise, if we attempt to study biblical theology without carrying into it any kind of systematic understanding of the Bible, our interpretation of various passages are at risk of being wildly inaccurate and subjective due to their being left undisciplined by any kind of normative confession of faith derived from Scripture more broadly.
Next week, we will discuss some of spiritually enriching, practical benefits of incorporating biblical theology into our study of Scripture. Stay tuned for the upcoming post, “Why Study Biblical Theology?”