What is Biblical Theology and why is everyone on about it?
1. Biblical Theology is a Theological Discipline
"Biblical theology is integral to the whole process of discerning the meaning of the biblical text and of applying this meaning to the contemporary scene. While we distinguish it from other theological disciplines, such as systematics, historical theology, apologetics and practical theology, its relationship to these disciplines is one of interdependence. Because biblical theology is the fruit of exegesis of the texts of the various biblical corpora it has a logical priority over systematics and the other specialized types of theologizing (NDBT)."
2. Biblical Theology Interprets the Bible Theologically
"Peter Stuhlmacher states the matter trenchantly: ‘A biblical theology … must attempt to interpret the Old and New Testament tradition as it wants to be interpreted. For this reason, it cannot read these texts only from a critical distance as historical sources but must, at the same time, take them seriously as testimonies of faith which belong to the Holy Scripture of early Christianity’ (*How To Do Biblical Theology, p. 1) (NDBT)."
3. Biblical Theology is Synthetic
"Biblical theology is characterized by two distinct but related activities which may be broadly described as analysis and synthesis. The first seeks to reconstruct the individual theologies of the writings or collections of writings of the Bible." The second presents "...the theology of particular themes across the whole Bible. This approach, called ‘pan-biblical theology’ by James Barr, is concerned ultimately to construct one single theology for the Bible in its entirety. It confronts the question: in what sense can the Old and New Testaments be read as a coherent whole (NDBT)."
4. Biblical Theology is Thematic
"Concepts rather than words are a surer footing on which to base thematic study such as that involved in biblical-theological synthesis (NDBT)."
5. Biblical Theology attempts to do "whole-Bible" theology
By undertaking the task of synthesis, the end goal is to present a whole-Bible theology. Biblical theologians try to find unifying themes, or a single unifying theme, for the OT and NT. Such a "center," as it is called, helps to understand the logic of the progressive nature of the Biblical revelation. "Even though the Bible is strictly speaking a collection of books written over hundreds of years with widely varying contents, it does tell a unified story; the tale of creation, fall, judgment and redemption culminates with the gospel concerning Jesus Christ, which the apostles regarded as attested to by all Scripture (NDBT)."
"Thus biblical theology explores the Bible’s rich and many-sided presentation of its unified message. It is committed to declaring ‘the whole counsel of God … [in order] to feed the church of God’ (NDBT)."
6. Biblical Theology is Christ-centered
"Finally, biblical theology maintains a conscious focus on Jesus Christ, not in some naive and implausible sense, where Christ is found in the most unlikely places, but in noting God’s faithfulness, wisdom and purpose in the progress of salvation history. It reads not only the NT, but also the OT, as a book about Jesus. Even if in the OT religion was focused on present relationship with God, based on his dealings with and for his people in the past, there is a firm and growing belief in the future coming of God on the day of the Lord for judgment and salvation. Christians believe that this hope culminates in Jesus and read the OT as a book which prepares for and prophesies his coming and the people of God he would renew and call into existence. The books of the NT connect Jesus with the OT in a variety of ways, seeing Jesus as the fulfillment of prophecy, the ideal to which individuals and institutions aspired, or the climax of God’s dealings revealed in various types.
Virtually every theme in biblical theology, as may be seen from the examples noted in the previous two sections, leads to Christ as the final and definitive installment (NDBT)."
Of the "themes" proposed by biblical theology, whether they be 'covenant', 'land', 'temple', 'sacrifice', 'kingdom', 'God', most biblical theologians will subsume these centers into the overall biblical storyline's emphasis upon the consummating work of Jesus Christ.
"What is biblical theology? To sum up, biblical theology may be defined as theological interpretation of Scripture in and for the church. It proceeds with historical and literary sensitivity and seeks to analyse and synthesize the Bible’s teaching about God and his relations to the world on its own terms, maintaining sight of the Bible’s overarching narrative and Christocentric focus (NDBT)."
Excerpted from "Biblical Theology" by Brian S. Rosner (Moore Theological College, Sydney).
B. S. Rosner, "Biblical Theology" in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. T. D. Alexander and B. S. Rosner. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP, 2000.