Biblical Theology often seeks to understand the theology, the beliefs, and the philosophy of the Biblical writers themselves. This requires careful hermeneutics.
What is Biblical Theology? Biblical Theology is the study of a Biblical passage with extra attention given to that passage’s grammar and historical context, with the goal of discovering the theology of the Biblical author himself. The main point of Biblical Theology is for the reader to extract the clear theological themes being promoted by the Biblical author and to determine how those themes fit in with the overarching Biblical narrative of redemption.
The Definition of Theology
Theology is the study of God and the Bible. The goal is to understand the character and nature of God to the best of our ability, and to worship God because of who He is and what He has done. Theology helps the reader/analyzer discover elements of God’s character and informs how we construct our own values, ethics, and ideology. As we rightly study theology we learn the Lord’s wisdom, commands, and blessings.
3 Types of Theology
In order the understand Biblical theology, we need to understand other forms of theology too. The Bible can sometimes be straight forward. Other times it’s quite blurry. The blurriness mostly comes from the fact that the Bible was written in cultures and eras that are significantly different than our own culture. Our contemporary context influences us far more than we realize. Therefore, understanding literature across time periods and across cultures can be tough.
With that in mind, we want to drill down on the Bible. We want to study it well. We want to understand its nuances. This is what we are doing when we engage in theological study. There are different types of theological study that Christians engage in. This article will define the three primary types of theology, specifically defining the relationships between the types. Then we shall given extra attention to Biblical Theology and its impact on other elements of the Christian life.
First, systematic theology is the study of theology by topic, subject, or category. This form of theological study groups various texts in the Bible together based on the subjects or themes those texts speak to. This type of theological study is what most people probably think of when they consider theology at all. The main point of systematic theology is focusing on the main subject and looking at all Biblical contexts pertaining to that particular theme. Systematic theologians tend to construct “systems” or frameworks that help us interpret passages efficiently and with consistency.
Next, we have Biblical theology. Now, I know that many readers may comment: “Shouldn’t all theology be Biblical?” The answer is yes, of course. However, the term Biblical theology does not mean that the other forms are not Biblical. This term ‘Biblical theology’ has been the term used to describe a unique perspective on Christian theological study.
Biblical theology is distinct from systematic theology, and yet it is also a part of systematic theology. Some scholars have asserted that the relationship between Biblical theology and systematic theology is similar to the relationship between a parent and child, with Biblical theology being the parent and systematic theology being the child. The reason for this metaphor is because quality Biblical theology must often take place before systematic theology can take place. The systematic theologian must first engage in Biblical theology, in order to extract theological themes from Biblical passages and then group them together into genres and categories.
Unlike systematic theology, Biblical theology does not inspect the different types of Biblical literature with a subject or topic already in mind. The Biblical theologian, just like the systematic theologian, seeks to study the passage and extract theological themes from the text. However, the Biblical theologian resists the urge or the demand to place those themes into any predefined categories, and the Biblical theologian may not be using any systematic frameworks to examine the passage. Instead Biblical theology simply seeks to understand how that particular passage from the Bible might shed light on the beliefs and ideology of the Biblical author himself.
For further study, the Biblical theologian may often also ask, “How does this passage, and the extracted themes, fit into the overarching redemptive story of the Bible?” But again, Biblical theology will often refrain from seeking to systematically organize Biblical passages by category or subject.
Historical theology is not as popular as systematic theology or Biblical theology, but can still be very useful. Historical theology is the study of any particular Biblical concept with extra special attention being given to the evolution of that concept throughout church history. Historical theology leans and relies upon both Biblical theology and systematic theology.
The historical theologian extracts themes from Biblical passages, just like the Biblical theologian does. The Historical theologian may also often seek to organize those themes into categories, like the systematic theologian would do. The distinction is this, after extracting and organizing concepts from Biblical passages, the historical theologian asks, “How have Christian scholars and pastors throughout the centuries thought about these concepts?” The historical theologian is often comparing and contrasting the works of systematic and Biblical theologians from throughout the centuries of church history, and often from across the spectrum of Christianity.
Doctrines have been organized and articulated differently by different Christians throughout the 2,000 years of church history—and the historical theologian seeks to understand why and how doctrines have been organized. The historical theologian also examines the cultural, ideological, and political trends throughout specific regions of the world in particular eras of church history, seeking to understand how those trends may have influenced how those Christians interpreted specific Biblical texts.
How to Recognize Biblical Theology
It is often recommended that a new studier of the Bible should pursue some basic Biblical theology practices before diving into the other forms of theology, or even before apologetics. Biblical theology helps lead a reader to various concepts that can be considered, reflected upon, and quickly applied to the life of the believer. There are different steps to help a beginner start studying the Bible. Here are four different ways you can begin diving into the practice of Biblical theology.
1. Define The Meaning
First, think about why the author wrote this specific book of the Bible in the first place. What seems to be his intent? What’s occurring during this time of the book which caused this person to write about this particular situation? What cultural and political trends in the author’s context may have informed his thinking?
While venturing into the depths of scripture, here is a tip: Try having an individual sheet of paper and write what statement is clear to you and what may be the potential thesis of the passage you are reading. Most of the time, when you study each verse, you will see a sentence that explains the entire passage. Then, do some basic research of the context of the author and ask yourself, “Is it possible that the things going on influenced him?”
2. Investigate The Goal
Second, spend some time looking at the scriptures and see what the author wants or was commanded to accomplish. Really scrutinize the words and analyze the verses individually. What is the main goal of this context? Look at the passage and ask yourself “What are the themes and concepts of this passage?”
After investing, try to understand why that goal is created. Why exactly does this person have to accomplish this objective? Discover the significance of the ambition and ask yourself what the outcome was if they accomplished or failed the goal. What were the rewards/consequences?
3. Discover The Main Audience
Third, What did the original author’s message mean to intend to their audience? Try to see what exactly stood out through the author’s message to them. During their time period, culture, environment, etc.
As you discover what the audience is, also inquire yourself to see geographically where the provinces were. (Most of the time, there are maps provided in the back of a Bible). Looking to see where the audience lived can also give you more clarity on where exactly they live, what their culture is, and other important landmarks that their nation was located too.
4. Find What Relates To You
Lastly, what do you have in common with the audience that makes sense to you? What sin or problem was the original audience facing that I am facing today? What do I have in common with that original audience? Whatever made this text necessary for them might give me insight into why and how it relates to me. As begin to answer these questions, begin to ask about the main themes in that text that you can clearly see.
The Bible is thorough through its literature that gives direction and instruction on how a Christian should ideally live. Even though the Bible can be confusing and hard to read at times, the overarching messages are often very clear. When theology is used, believers translate and analyze the blurred context, and translate it for more of a modern message. Honesty, submitting to the Lord, and having faith in every part of your life are just a few examples. When you are studying these different messages, see how this parable or statement can relate to you in the present.
Why Do We Need Biblical Theologians?
Without quality Biblical theologians helping us, many of us might miss out on plenty of elements of the character and nature of God. Here are four main points on why Christianity needs quality Biblical theologians.
1. Clarifies The Bible’s Main Purpose
The study of the Bible not only dissects the passages and books in the Bible, but theology helps us see the overarching redemptive story being weaved throughout Scripture. The Bible reveals God to us and helps us understand His redemptive purposes throughout history. Biblical theologians can help us more clearly see the Bible’s main purposes and help us see how those purposes connect to our lives.
2. Gives Knowledge & Guidance
Biblical theologians help to export loads of quality Biblical knowledge, wisdom, and discernment to Christians all over the world. Biblical theological scholars inspect all sorts of elements of the Bible as well as elements from philosophy, history, politics, and even the natural sciences. Quality Biblical theologians can often sort through the information from these various sources and help us view those things through a Biblical lens, that we otherwise might not do naturally.
Trained Biblical theologians read often in-between-the-lines of the Bible effectively. They can analyze all sorts of components of the Bible that we may otherwise misunderstand or neglect. Biblical theologians can be very helpful to illuminate information and themes in the Bible that are helpful to us in our Christian lives.
3. Informs Ways For Evangelism
Sharing the good news and proclaiming the gospel is the Lord’s master plan. All Christians should be evangelizing, seeking to share the gospel with non-believers. Biblical theology is important for evangelism. Biblical theologians can help us see things in the Bible that can greatly inform how we share the gospel. Biblical theologians can also give us insights into what components of particular passages are valuable to and most essential to share with non-believers. The Bible can also give us wisdom and practical pointers on how to spread the gospel. Biblical theologians often do a good job pointing these out for us.
4. Signifies What To Believe
Biblical theologians often highlight the themes and passages most important when developing our doctrines. They also often are the ones shedding light on key historical components of the passage. Without understanding the backstory, setting, and plot of the Bible, Christians could potentially be lost or mislead. Many scriptures can be taken out of context and the result would be in teaching wrong doctrines. Biblical theologians, who do extensive research on the Bible and its context, can be very helpful to us, serving as guards, of sorts. Their work helps us spot false teachings
Theology is essential. Theologians can be helpful. But even if you’re not a theologian, you can read, study, and understand the Bible in a manner that genuinely impacts your faith journey. Quality Bible study is where it all starts. Biblical theology is certainly not superior to systematic theology at all. Both forms of theological study have their place, and both are helpful. But all forms of Christian theology start with Biblical theology, and then we build from there. All Christians can and should engage in the discipline of Biblical theology, not just the scholars.