June 28, 2012

Is Biblical Theology Dangerous?

by Wyatt Graham

Biblical Theology is the practice of developing one’s theology by studying the Bible’s progressive revelation, and seeing how truths were revealed chronologically, throughout redemptive history. It means more than deriving theology from a certain book of the Bible, but rather stresses the importance of reading the Bible in chronological order, and seeing how God’s revelation progresses through time. This approach to theology is different from systematic theology, which develops theology by building principals across scripture, without regard to what revelation was in existence at the time.

In Biblical Theology, one starts reading at the book of Genesis and traces the story of God’s revelation until Revelation. This means that the Bible points forward in history, usually finding its fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ. In this sense, often Biblical Theologians follow the line of thinking that all Scripture points to and is fulfilled in Christ. In the past, the concept of Biblical Theology was an approach reserved for the halls of academia. But more recently it has made the map (often pushed by D. A. Carson) into the mainstream of American churches.

While Biblical Theology (often called the historical redemptive approach to Scripture) can often be used to refine thinking and can result in a christocentric focus in interpretation, I have a concern with this approach to developing theology. I fear that this approach can at times misunderstand, misread, and misapply the Bible, because it paradoxically misunderstands how God reveals himself to us.

My firm belief is that God reveals himself in the Bible in a way that is relevant for all generations of people. The message of Leviticus, for example, while not written to us was written for us (1 Cor 10:11). This is summed up in the Apostle’s Paul words here: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). Thus, all Scripture, including books like Leviticus, have an authoritative message for us today.

I believe the Biblical Theology (historical redemptive school) can obfuscate the meaning of God’s revelation by the way it reads the Bible.  Here’s why I believe this.

First, Biblical Theology tends to see God’s revelation as history. While God works in history, the meaning of his activity consists of how he reveals something about himself to us. God has acted in history, but history can be interpreted in so many ways. At the same time, the interpretation of history in the Scripture has one primary meaning — the meaning that God intended to convey. Biblical Theology can lead to a person to believe that history is where  God revealed himself, while missing the point of the passage.

We study the social setting, the archeological data, the geography and so forth. Putting together our historical understanding, we then apply that to the meaning of the text. Hence, Abraham’s purchase of the tomb at Machpelah becomes much more significant when one understands Hittite legal codes (Gen 23). That may be true enough and helpful in a number of ways, but it can obfuscate the point of that passage — i.e. that Abraham now possesses part of the Promised Land, a down payment and a surety of God’s faithfulness even though his people would become slaves in Egypt for 400 years (cf. Gen 15).

Another example is the Exodus of Israel from Egypt (Ex 4–15). The crossing of the Red Sea, where God opened up the waters to allow Israel to walk through on dry land, is not so much about the way the waters parted (did they fold up?), the length Israel had to walk across the river or whatever else. While these historical matters are interesting and can really paint a picture of the scene in our mind, they usually are not the main point. This is especially true in the Exodus event.

Second, this leads me to my second concern: Biblical Theology can lead one to view God’s revelation in history rather than its interpretation or intended meaning in Scripture. I think there is a fine difference between what God has done in history and what God reveals to us in Scripture. While God has acted in history, this may not be revelation in the sense we mean here. This is because history can have many meanings. One simply has to look at a big event in history like William the Conquerer’s invasion of England. Just why did it happen in the way it did? Well, there may be a hundred political, socio-economical and other reasons why William attempted to conquer England. Thus, history can have various interpretations but this is not how God wants us to view his actions in history. Rather, the meaning God intends to share with us is the one recorded in Scripture. A further surety that Scripture is the place where God speaks to us is its inspired nature (2 Tim 3:16). In short, God’s revelation is inspired Scripture.

Any meaning derived from studying God’s action in history can be quite helpful from a historical point of view and even to paint a vivid picture in preaching or teaching. At the same time, what God intends to reveal to us today can primarily be understood through studying the Bible itself. Admittedly, sometimes we need to know social history to understand idioms or word history (etymology or even philology) to understand the meaning of Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic words in the Bible. Still, these all serve to give us a better understanding of the meaning of the Bible from the Bible.

Practically, seeing God’s revelation as Scripture transforms how we understand the Exodus of Israel, allowing its message to authoritatively speak to us today. We simply must notice that chapters 4 and 14 bracket the events of the Exodus with the focus on believing in Yahweh and his messenger  (Ex 4:1, 5, 8–9, 31; 14:31). The final word before the Song of Moses (Ex 15) reads:  “Israel saw the great power that the Yahweh used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Yahweh, and they believed in the Yahweh and in his servant Moses” (Ex 14:31). Just what did Israel believe in? Notice. that Yahweh is used four times in the above verse. It was Yahweh’s great power as God of all gods, the God of creation, the God of the Patriarchs, and the personal God of Israel who they believe in. More than that, the climactic wonder that God performed occurred by sending angels to kill every first born in Egypt unless they provided a substitute lamb (Ex 12).

In short, the Exodus taught Israel to believe in Yahweh because of his decisive salvation of Israel from slavery, while realizing that the only way to live was through substitutionary atonement. Realize, of course, that when Exodus was first read it was read to the second Generation of Israel on the plains of Moab (or probably after they were in the land). Hence, the events of the Exodus were as old to them as World War I is to us. Already the Exodus was history. Hence, the meaning of the Exodus must be for those beyond the generation it was written about. It must speak to those beyond itself. And it did and still does.

This can contrast rather sharply with Bible study that focuses on the historical events in Egypt and the crossing of the sea. This might include trying to understand what Egyptian dynasty was in power or what Egyptian slaves were like during the supposed period of the Exodus. The reason why Israel so desperately desired freedom from Egypt was because of the oppressive nature of the X regime of Egypt, one might reason. Still, the real reason is that God promised to bring Israel out of Egypt after 400 years (cf. Gen 15) and remembered his covenant at that time (cf. Ex 1–3). One might be tempted to explain that the chariots of Pharaoh went awry as they chased Israel, because of the muddy ground and wooden wheels of these chariots. While this may help to think through how God did it, it still was a divine act that stopped the chariots from catching Israel or escaping judgment (cf. Ex 14:25ff).

Studying these issues may help the historian or the archeologist, to understand all the facts of the Exodus event. However, the meaning of this event is the meaning given in Scripture. Thus, adding data where it is omitted in Scripture may serve to obfuscate the point of the text rather than serve to uncover its intended meaning.

The meaning of the Exodus has present relevance and authority as God’s word for our instruction (cf. 2 Tim 3:16). We need to learn to exercise faith in Yahweh, the greatest of all God’s and redeemer of our souls through substitutionary atonement. The Exodus is about the Gospel, the good news that through faith we can be saved from God’s wrath through believing in him and trusting that our sin has been transferred to the lamb of God.

Third, Biblical Theology tends to study the history and progressive fulfillment of Scripture rather than studying the Bible as literature. We need to repent of seeing the Bible as isolated stories in history about an ancient people and place our trust in seeing Scripture as a literary work intended to convey a message to us. By studying the Bible’s structure, composition and so forth, we begin to see how an author organized his message for his audience. It is at this level that we stop reading Leviticus as solely laws for ancient Israel and begin reading it as a message for us today.

So why does Leviticus include all the laws and offerings? It does not appear to be a comprehensive listing of ceremonial religion, per se. Any one reading the first seven chapters soon realize that Leviticus cannot be a how-to guide to sacrifice, since it omits so much detail. No, the priests probably created their own hand books on sacrifice. So it appears that the laws and offerings are somewhat representational. Actually, the laws in the Pentateuch itself do not appear to be concerned with being a comprehensive compendium.  Hence, we are told three times not to boil a young goat in its mother’s milk (Ex 23:19; 34:26; Deut 14:21).

Leviticus is not simply a history of Israel’s religion, though many critical theologians and fundamentalists like to battle on this level. The tendency of Liberal Theology is discount the revelatory meaning of Scripture in place of its scientific historical investigation of the Bible. Ironically, fundamentalists have sought to play the same ball game and argue along liberal lines, through substantiating history. While this is well enough for apologetic endeavors, it practically means that these believers see history as the meaning of Scripture.

Covenant theologians often have tried to find the meaning of Leviticus through analogy to the church. What happened to Israel is like what happens to the church. Israel was the wilderness church, while we are church in exile awaiting our Promised Land. This confuses God’s intended revelation in Leviticus with a meaning that is found in the New Testament. Sure enough, not all covenant theologians say it this simply, but I am trying to give examples of how we misread the Scripture.

New Covenant Theologians can be guilty of seeing the meaning of the Old Testament simply in terms of its prophetic function for the New Testament. The Old Testament is full of promises that Jesus fulfills. Hence, to read Leviticus is simply to see how it points to and is fulfilled in Jesus. Again, this is a broad brushed statement — many NCTers would not say it so simply. Still, is the Old Testament simply a complex of promises and trajectories to be fulfilled in the NT?

All three methods are valid in many respects but are as a whole insufficient to account for the meaning of, say, Leviticus. While a positive presentation of the meaning of Scripture cannot possibly occur here, a suggestion for the meaning of the laws in Leviticus (or the Pentateuch for that matter) follow.

Leviticus shows that failure to trust God results in discipline, human evil, and God’s grace in providing laws to Israel so that they would not be lost in a sea of sin. These laws function to create a barrier between the holy God and disobedient and untrusting Israel. Thus, evidencing their evil and God’s goodness to give them laws, so that they can stay in the presence of God without his holiness demanding their death. God’s grace in giving these laws to Israel is so that they remain God’s people and the coming redeemer would come to bless (cf. Num 24:7–9, 17).

Its message for us today is that sin and unbelief separates us from God, though he is always gracious even in his discipline. Only a faithful clinging to Yahweh and his redeemer can make law doable without being a burden (cf. Gen 15:6 with 26:2–6 and Rom 8:4).

To sum up, the place of God’s revelation is his inspired Scripture, and revelation means that God reveals himself to all people at all times. It is not simply historically conditioned. Hence, the Exodus means more than the rescue of Israel but it teaches us to trust Yahweh and receive forgiveness through atonement. The message of Leviticus is that sin separates us from God and necessitates laws, though God is gracious to us even in our failings. Graciously, the law preserved Israel’s life in the presence of a holy God so that the redeemer (Jesus) could arise from Judah.

Wyatt Graham

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Wyatt is the Executive Director of The Gospel Coalition Canada. He also blogs at www.wyattgraham.com. Follow him at @wagraham. Follow TGCCanada at @CanadaTgc.
  • Mjhenn

    This is quite the broad brush of CT, NCT, and Biblical Theology. . . . 

    • True. But it’s purpose is to illustrate the point, and not necessarily be comprehensive. I tried weave in a few phrases like, ” Sure enough, not all covenant theologians say it this simply, but I am trying to give examples of how we misread the Scripture.” I think everyone can agree that there are many variations of CT, NCT, and so forth. While I doubt I represented everyone in each camp perfectly, it at least shows tendencies. 

      Thanks for the comment. 

  • You seem to give more of a historical than redemptive critique of BT. Maybe you’re dealing more with Vos than the contemporary writers? I’ve barely dipped into Biblical Theology, but it appears from what I have read and heard in lectures that it’s mainly about “how does the teaching on ____ expand throughout the Bible.” Maybe I’m being too simplistic, but that is what I got from hearing Goldsworthy and reading some of Hamilton, Schreiner and Carson. I think Hamilton might be addressing your concerns on p. 43 of his book?

    Even as dispensationalist we have a Biblical Theology, it just may not work the same as CT and NCT’s.

    Help me understand why a dispensationalist should not agree with the following?

    “Biblical theology is a means of looking at one particular event in
    relation to the total picture.  This total picture includes us where we
    are now, between the ascension of Jesus and his return at the end of the
    age.  Biblical theology enables us to see ourselves in relation to the
    far off events in the Bible narratives.  To uncover our relationship to a
    particular event is to uncover meaning for us.”–Graham Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 21

    Or this from Hamilton…

    “The purpose of biblical theology, then, is to sharpen our understanding
    of the theology contained in the Bible itself through an inductive,
    salvation-historical examination of the Bible’s themes and the
    relationships between those themes in their canonical context and
    literary form. In this book I am arguing that one theme is central to
    all others (47).”
     

    • Michael,

      I just want to say first of all — I am a big fan of all the people you mentioned above. They’ve taught me a lot, and I would never want to discredit them. My post is not directed to them, but to the average person who studies the Bible and is influenced by Biblical theology or the redemptive historical approach (Vos). Hence, their followers can sometimes read the Bible poorly. This is because of certain tendencies in BT, NCT, etc. 

      And in reply to your quotes from Goldsworthy and Hamilton, I would simply say that their emphasis on “salvation-historical” or “heilsgeschichte” is by its very definition a focus on the events themselves. Hence, my first two concerns above explain why this CAN be a problem. Again, it’s not usually a problem for the Bible scholars, since they have tons of time to reflect on the text and perfect their systems. The guy with a family who works 50 hours per week does not have an additional 1000 hours to study Scripture. He hears, “Study the historical events in scripture chronologically to see God’s unfolding plan inductively” and responds (or sometimes responds) in the way described above.  

      To answer your question directly, a dispensationalist does not need to disagree with the above quotes. You are right. This is why I said, “All three methods are valid in many respects but are as a whole insufficient to account for the meaning of, say, Leviticus” above.

      As a side note, many in the Biblical Theology camp are moving away from an event based theology (i.e. heilsgeschichte) and into a literary theology (so, Wellum, Dempster, Scobie, Zaspel, Carson, etc.)

      Thanks for the interaction. 

      • Tranwei

        Hey Wyatt,

        Thanks for your thoughtful post. As someone who has been encouraged by studying the Bible through the lens of progressive revelation/biblical theology, you grabbed my attention with the title. But in the end, I’m not quite sure what your concern is with biblical theology?

        From your reply above, it sounds like your simple answer to your title is: Yes, biblical theology is dangerous if you’re just a lay person. Am I hearing that correctly? I don’t know if a lay person who works 50 hours a week will get caught up in some of the things you’re talking about up there–after all, I can’t remember the last time a lay person asked me about Hittite legal codes. And it almost sounds like the paragraph that starts your 3rd point almost argues for a biblical theology as opposed to systematic theology?

        And if the answer is truly, “Yes, biblical theology is dangerous for the untrained lay person,” would that also make systematic theology dangerous? After all, a lay person may begin ripping passages out of their respective contexts to form bad theology.

        Maybe I’m missing something because I haven’t read Vos, but it seems to me your concern with biblical theology is only when it is done in an unbiblical way. An unbiblical biblical theology is certainly dangerous, as is an unbiblical systematic theology and an unbiblical gospel, but that doesn’t mean we throw the baby out with the bathwater.

        So in the end, if this post is directed towards “the average person who studies the Bible,” how would you encourage them to proceed? Avoid biblical theology altogether or just avoid erroneous tendencies/influences of some biblical theologians? I would love to hear your thoughts!

        • Hey Tranwei,

          You asked great questions. Thanks for bringing them up.

          [major concern] First of all, my big point is you should study the bible and not the events underneath the Bible. Historical redemptive approaches and sometimes Biblical Theology focus on the Salvation Events in history, which on bad days mean that revelation is in the events themselves and not in the Scripture. Why is this bad? Well, it’s not necessarily bad but confusing. And practically it can lead to problems. 

          Is history or Scripture God’s revelation? 

          [dangerous for lay person?] Second, for the non-scholar/pastor, this can be confusing. So we read a commentary or try to find “historical background” info to illumine a passage to better understand the history around it. 

          This means instead of reading a book of the Bible as literature (p III), we read it as a compendium of facts. Hence, the Bible is a history book and not revelation for us. I’ve been in a thousand (hyberbole) Bible studies where this happens. If you’ve ever heard a bible study on Numbers is about numbering the people of Israel and really just confirms that they existed, then you know what I am talking about.

          In contrast to seeing Numbers as simply history (that may or may not record a revelatory event of God), I think Numbers has a message for us today that has not changed at the cross. Numbers taught all believers (Israel + us) that the blessing of God comes through faith (cf. Num 14, 20). It’s the same today as it was then. Biblical Theology tends to transform that meaning into a promise-fulfillment set up. So that’s disconcerting.  

          [third, how to procede]. I would encourage us to see Scripture as God speaking to us (revelation) for all ages/people. This means we can use history as an apologetic or help make a scene come to life, but that we should remember to focus on the direct meaning of the text. In contrast, if we trace historical salvation events through Scripture, I think we fall into the danger of seeing these events as revelation-outside-of-Scripture-and-in-history — salvation history. 

          To re-iterate: use history, archeology as helpful tools. But focus on Scripture as a direct revelation to us, and realize that the historical events behind the Scripture are revelation insofar as they are interpreted in Scripture. 

          Don’t avoid Biblical Theology or Biblical Theologians but avoid an unguarded tendency to see God’s revelation as history instead of God’s interpretation of that history. Instead, study the Bible as a literary revelation that is written for us.

          • Tranwei

            Thanks for the reply–that was really helpful and now I understand what your concern is. I haven’t sat in a Bible study  on Numbers like you described (thankfully), but I can see how that would miss the point of Numbers.

            An especially clarifying line for me in your response was: “avoid an unguarded tendency to see God’s revelation as history instead of God’s interpretation of that history.”Thanks again and take good care of those students on the other side of the gym 🙂

          • Ill take care of em :). By the way, we should hang for a coffee break next week and talk Bible! 

  • lewr2

    We should probably read the bible from the OT to the NT I agree. However, the Jews would say that we don’t have the bible in the correct order. Do you think we should do that before implementing your above mentioned theory?

    • Hey lewr2,

      Are you asking about the Hebrew Bible book order (Torah, Prophets, & Writings) versus the English Bible book order (mainly chronological)? Personally, I think using the Hebrew Book order helps us to better understand the Bible. I think those who made Hebrew Book order did so to help us understand its theology. In short, they organized the Bible topically so that readers could better understand its meaning. 

      But the content of both book orders is the same. So… it’s really up to personal choice, though I think the Hebrew Book order makes life easier. I think you can use either book order to approach the Bible in the way I describe. 

      • lewr2

         Hi Wyatt,

        Yes, that is what I was talking about. I’ve just started reading it and understanding it not from a western/english standpoint, but Hebrew and it’s different. Reading the Jewish NT gives a really good understanding.

        • Hey lewr2,

          That’s great. It can be really eye opening to approach the Scriptures from a different perspective. 

          Just a question. What do you mean by “the Jewish NT?” Like, the New Testament in Hebrew translation? 

  • Andy Stevenson

    Isn’t “Chronological Theology” maybe a more accurate description of what is described here?    Surely Systematic Theologians would object to the notion that their theology is not “Biblical”

    • Mabye. Though I am just using the terminology that they use for themselves. I’m pretty sure most systematic theologians understand the different between what they are doing and chronological approaches (biblical theology). So I’m sure they won’t be mad at me :). 

  • Shawn Wilhite

    Wyatt,

    Thanks for the post, but I’m still left wanting. One of your overarching, and systemic I may add, is how Biblical Theology is related to historical events as opposed to the theological trajectory of the Testaments. Would you mind revealing a bit who’s “type” of Biblical Theology you were critiquing? Reason being, I’ve been entrenched in Vos, Schnelle, Schreiner, and Beale and am not seeing continuity between your critique and what is currently (Vos excluded) being done in the field of Biblical Theology. The “heilsgeschichte” presuppositional argument you broach was more or less within the interpretive History of Biblical Theology but early in the historical movement and not a whole lot in the present state of Biblical Theological scholarship.

    I’m under the impression when we say “Biblical Theology”, we are meaning two different things. Would you mind providing a bit of clarification (I tried following some of the other comments and still was unable to get a grasp on what is intended)? Thank you my friend!

    • Hey Shawn,

      I’m mainly talking about a Vos type Bib Theo. Admittedly, Schreiner and Beale have different emphases. This is why I didn’t mention names, because most of the recent writers are fairly balanced. The problem is that Vos-type salvation history still exists and many Christians who try use Bib Theo today in practice can tend toward studying events in history rather than their interpretation in Scripture. 

      The whole Biblical Theology project is positive; but its children and weird uncles confuse the matter. That’s what.who i am critiquing. If I re-titled this post, I’d probably be more general (dangers of chronological/salvation historical readings).  

      Your (Shawn) Bib Theo is something I am cool with. 

      By the way, did you read Scobie yet? 

      • Shawn Wilhite

        Thanks Wyatt for the clarification.

        Scobie is on the list in the near future.

  • Tavis

    Wyatt,

    As much as I appreciate you voicing your concerns about Biblical Theology, a word of caution is in order.

    First, to insinuate that BT is “dangerous” even from the title of your article entails a strong accusation. Very godly men have been and currently are engaged in BT to much fruitfulness (Gerald Bray is one shining example).

    Second, your underlying premise is untenable. You stated, “My firm belief is that God reveals himself in the Bible in a way that is relevant for all generations of people.” Most readers of CG would agree with this presupposition. However, so would most Biblical Theologians. It is at this point that you failed to demonstrate why Systematic Theology is superior to BT in making biblical truth relevant. Can you demonstrate similar shortcomings in ST, and then show how despite those flaws ST still trumps BT? That would help your argument.

    Third, you failed to distinguish between “reasons” and “interpretations.” In the example of William the Conqueror, you made the following statement: “there may be a hundred political, socio-economical and other reasons
    why William attempted to conquer England. Thus, history can have various
    interpretations . . .” These two statements are mutually exclusive. I can say the same about the Bible: the outworking of God’s eternal decree utilized manifold secondary causes, which we would call reasons. However, the interpretation of those events are varied as well. The cause of various interpretations of history, and the Bible, is complex: presuppositions, facts available, historical perspectives, etc. Reasons for things happening are what lead to interpretations. Hence, the foundation of exegesis includes understanding historical backgrounds. This leads to my final observation.

    Fourth, the throughline of your argument comes across as somewhat narrow-minded. Yes, the self-sufficiency of Scripture is something all evangelicals would adhere to. But this tenor of this article made me think of the story of the burning of the great library in Alexandria. A Muslim leader had the ancient building burned to the ground, along with thousands of valuable manuscripts, because he thought the Koran was the only book worth reading. I’m not saying you are being that extreme, but instead attempting to caution you about removing Scripture from its historical context. God is the Divine Being who works in and through history. The words of the Bible were written at specific times for specific reasons. Yes, timeless truths abound, but

    I would not agree with you that every word of every passage carries the same authority today as it did in the original setting. God wrote certain passages for particular people and reasons that don’t carry the same weight today as they did then. Now, are they still authoritative, in the sense of being God’s words? Of course. Are they still relevant? That depends. That is why BT is necessary, because it reasonably examines the playing out of the historical redemption narrative in a manner that allows us to know our place in history.

    • Hey Travis. Thank you for this thoughtful critique. Maybe I can clarify a few things briefly in the order you asked. 

      First, by asking “is biblical theology dangerous” I actually answer that it isn’t. I said, “I fear that this approach can at times misunderstand, misread, and misapply the Bible.” Basically, when I say “can at times misunderstand” etc., I simply meant that. Sometimes people go too far in this approach. This is just something I’ve seen in those who read and appreciate Biblical Theology (like I do). 

      Second, I am not really pitting Systematic Theology and Bib Theo against one another. Sorry I didn’t say that clearly somewhere. 

      Third, that’s exactly my point. There are many ways to interpret history and there are many ways to interpret Scripture. However, Scripture is different since God gives us his interpretation of Scripture. So, for example, a passage like Gen 49 or Gen 22:17-18 can show us who/what is meant by the seed.

      By the way, I admit that the history of interpretation has many influences. So that makes things more difficult. Still, there’s a different between the meaning of history and the meaning of history, simply because God often reveals the meaning of Scripture to us in straightforward ways unlike history. 

      Fourth, I disagree. Sorry for being narrow-minded. I don’t intend to be library burning vandal. I just simply see a problem in how some within the Biblical Theological camps interpret Scripture. That is, sometimes they misunderstand how God reveals himself. 

      Notice that I did not critique understandings of typology or promise-fulfillment/theological trajectories. In fact, I even affirm that they are useful and help and right: “All three methods are valid in many respects . . . .” 

      I think it is important to know where you are along the historical-redemptive line. I hope I did not convey the contrary. 

      Once again, I am humbled and appreciative that you have taken the time to give me a fair hearing and critique. 

      Blessings

  • Tim Moschera

    Wyatt!

    It has been a long time since we lasted talked!  I appreciate your concerns and thank you for reminding us of these things. However, I found your connection between the methodological concerns and “Biblical Theology” to be unfortunate. It seems to me that contemporary Biblical Theology (as opposed to that of Vos) shares your concerns and is attempting to work against the tendency to be overly concerned with historical matters and instead focus on the literary message of the text. I think if you will allow the better contemporary writers like Jim Hamilton, T.D. Alexander, D.A. Carson, etc. to define Biblical Theology, the concerns you listed will point you in the direction of Biblical Theology rather than away from it.

    Thanks again for your comments.

    • Hey Tim,

      I like those three, especially Alexander. 

      I still think that the average pastor/person today is influenced by historical redemptive biblical theologians of the 70s-80s, who passed the torch on to present day pastors who passed the torch to present day non pastors. 

      At least, I’ve encountered people who act like the history surrounding the text is the thing that determines its meaning. This is by no means an only biblical theology problem. Still, it exists. 

      But yes. Agreed. Hamilton, Alexander, and Carson are balanced and helpful. I’ve learned a lot from them. Thanks for reading.

  • agrammatos

    A well written article, IMO.  It seems, to me at least, to have a familiarity with an improper or incomplete approach to and use of BT.  What do I mean?  I’ll let a scholarly author, Eugene Merrill, address this rather than my own unlearned words…

    Two quotes from the two-volume work on BT edited by Zuck, more specifically, from the introduction to the first volume entitled “A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament”:

    “A genuinely Christian systematic theology will find its doctrine in Scripture alone and will be concerned to limit its organizational categories to those inherent in Scripture. However, it still employs an essentially synthetic method in assessing the theological raw material with which it works. For example, its soteriology, sensitive as it is to Old Testament and New Testament differences, will search the Scriptures from beginning to end for data that together compose the doctrines of salvation. A Christian biblical theology, on the other hand, will trace the history of salvation a step at a time throughout the Bible, allowing the history to take whatever form appropriate at any given stage of revelation, recognizing how the doctrine developed as revelation progressed. Then and only then will biblical theology seek to organize and synthesize the results of its inquiry.”

    “In an effort to distinguish between biblical and systematic theology, it is fallacious to pit the one against the other as though they were at odds, with one or the other being superior. They are simply two ways of viewing and expressing the same body of revelation. Yet much harm has been done by an inability to perceive their respective natures, priorities, and relationships. Those who practice only biblical theology sometimes fail to understand the proper integration of the strands of truth they discover in their longitudinal quest. They see the development of divine revelation but come short of understanding the fullness to which the process leads. They frequently end up with parallel strands of truth that are never systematized into a coherent pattern. Systematic theologians, however, are sometimes guilty of bringing epistemological frameworks to the biblical revelation that are either alien or extraneous to that revelation. They then force the material into conformity with their philosophical gridwork without considering the possibility that God’s truth is intractable and must therefore yield its own categories.”

    From the above two quotes I would understand that a proper approach to and use of BT goes beyond the erroneous approach to and use of BT that the OP was concerned with (as such there was, IMO, no “straw man” of BT erected), and that it is a false dichotomy (or dilemma) to pit BT against ST if the intent is to force someone to choose one path over the other.  Pitfalls and errors are possible on both paths.

    • Thanks for the two quotes. I think Merril and Zuck (?) generally use Biblical Theology to mean the theology of a particular book of the bible or corpus. The Bib Theo that I am referring to is sort of a canonical approach to Scripture, that was influenced by Historical Redemptive guys like Vos. 

      Thanks for taking to the time to respond.