What is Biblical Theology? How would you define it?
As you ponder your answer, let me issue a warning. Most people who read this article will probably not define it accurately –at least, they will give a correct answer that, while having a biblical basis, is not the answer we’re looking for. This is because the majority of our readers are not biblical scholars, and theologians have attached a special and technical import to this phrase that is not the common, vernacular meaning often associated with it (leave it to theologians to make things complicated!).
In this article we will attempt to give a concise summary of the theological discipline of evangelical Biblical Theology, a way of interpreting the Scriptures which has deeply impacted the lives of so many of those who discover it for the first time only after years of being Christians. The reason it has revolutionized the personal Bible study and devotion of countless believers is because it is peculiarly effective in helping us to see how all the Scriptures testify to the glory of God in the Person and work of Christ (Luke 24:27).
Not “Content” but “Method”
If you’re not familiar with the term as a theological method, it’s probably not what you think. When most people hear of “Biblical Theology”, they think of theology that is a correct and faithful summary of the Bible’s teaching. It is usually understood to be a phrase synonymous to “sound doctrine” (cf. 1 Tim.1:10; 6:3; Tit. 1:9; 2:1). It is thought to describe the content of a particular summary of the Bible’s teaching as far as such a summary accurately reflects the true meaning of Scripture. This way of defining the phrase refers to the theological content of a particular teaching. However, the way we’re using the phrase refers not to the content but to the theological method that undergirds the entire interpretative process that is utilized in order to arrive at the formulation of such content.
A Definition and Explanation
Geerhardus Vos (1862-1949) is known as the father of modern, evangelical Biblical Theology. His definition is worth quoting: “Biblical Theology is that branch of Exegetical Theology which deals with the process of the self-revelation of God deposited in the Bible.”  Several things come to the forefront:
(1) Biblical Theology is a branch of Exegetical Theology (as a necessary step in the hermeneutical and exegetical process) as opposed to other theological disciplines which flow from the exegetical method (such as Systematic Theology) or complement that method (such as Historic Theology). In this sense, it is foundational to the interpretative process of Scripture.
(2) The transcendent and inapproachable God has graciously revealed Himself to sinful mankind through a historical process of self-disclosure that is enveloped in real historical events and spans the centuries of Biblical history. Each consecutive step of God’s revelation is organically related to prior revelation so as to flow from it and build upon it. This progressive revelation is “telic” in nature (from the greek word, “telos”, meaning end, goal, or purpose), which means it is building up to a final climax which is the ultimate purpose of all things (cf. Eph. 1:9-10; 3:9-11).
(3) This revelation consists of redemptive acts and of the prophetic word of inspired interpretation which explains those acts. The greatest revelation of both redemptive act and revelatory word is found in the Person and work of Christ, whose light is the full blaze of God’s self-revelation (Heb.1:1-3).
(4) Biblical Theology takes this all into account as it studies the propositional truth of word-revelation as contained in the Bible. It consists of studying the Bible with a method of interpretation that is sensitive to the historic process of progressive, divine revelation, to which Scripture itself bears testimony. This means that the Bible itself governs the theological method that is peculiar to Biblical Theology rather than some other thing (such as logical deduction, philosophy or church history).
Unity amidst Diversity
The Bible is a diverse book. Sixty-six books written by over forty authors spanning fifteen centuries, three continents and three different languages, it can be difficult to understand it as a single, unified and harmonious whole. But while Scripture is incredibly diverse, it is all the product of a single divine Author (2 Tim. 3:16). Coming from God, though it consists of many different stories, it all bears witness to one great story. This golden thread and single plotline which can be traced through the entire historic process of the progressive revelation of God in Scripture is what theologians call the “meta-narrative” of the Bible.
Much debate has surrounded this topic in recent years. Faithful theologians disagree as to what this meta-narrative is. But there is general agreement among them about several things in particular: Its focal point is the glory of God, it is centered on Jesus Christ, and it is concerned with the redemption of mankind. All of Scripture bears witness in some form or other to these great truths. Every major story of the Bible has something to contribute to this meta-narrative according to the structure of its plotline as it proceeds forth from the eternal purpose of a sovereign God.
Biblical Theology helps us to understand the parts of Scripture in the light of the whole. It gives us the “big picture” of the image of the puzzle so that when we come across a particular piece that seems out of place, we know where that piece belongs within the framework of God’s redemptive plan in Christ for His own glory.
I am a worshiper of Jesus Christ, husband, father, missionary to Mexico, preacher, church planter, pastor, who loves to read ancient dead preachers, study Systematic Theology, fantasize about revival, strategize about missions, and enjoy God.
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