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Biblical Theology

Biblical Theology

Study of the Bible that seeks to discover what the biblical writers, under divine guidance, believed, described, and taught in the context of their own times.

Relation to Other Disciplines Biblical theology is related to but different from three other major branches of theological inquiry. Practical theology focuses on pastoral application of biblical truths in modern life. Systematic theology articulates the biblical outlook in a current doctrinal or philosophical system. Historical theology investigates the development of Christian thought in its growth through the centuries since biblical times.

Biblical theology is an attempt to articulate the theology that the Bible contains as its writers addressed their particular settings. The Scriptures came into being over the course of many centuries, from different authors, social settings, and geographical locations. They are written in three different languages and numerous literary forms (genres). Therefore analytic study leading to synthetic understanding is required to grasp their overarching themes and underlying unities. Biblical theology labors to arrive at a coherent synthetic overview without denying the fragmentary nature of the light the Bible sheds on some matters, and without glossing over tensions that may exist as various themes overlap (e.g., God's mercy and God's judgment; law and grace).

Preliminary Assumptions Study of any object calls for assumptions appropriate to that object. An African witch doctor's assumptions would probably not yield many empirically valid observations regarding the cause and cure of whooping cough. Likewise, biblical theology calls for certain assumptions without which valid observations about the meaning of the Bible's parts and whole are sure to elude the observer.

Inspiration. The whole Bible is given by God. While it unabashedly affirms and reflects its human authorship, it is no less insistent on its divine origin and message. Attempts to separate God's word from Scripture's words, a feature of academic biblical theology since its inception in Germany in 1787, have often resulted in the interpreter airing personal critical convictions rather than laying bare the theology of the writings themselves.

Unity. While contrasts and tensions exist within the biblical corpus due to the local and temporal soil from which its components first sprang, a solidarity underlies them. This solidarity is grounded in the oneness of God's identity and redemptive plan. It is also rooted in humankind's sinful solidarity in the wake of Adam's fall. Scripture's undeniable diversity, commonly overplayed in current critical discussion, complements rather than obliterates its profound unity. Scripture is its own best interpreter, and uncertainties raised by one portion are often legitimately settled by appeal to another.

Reliability. Since God is the ultimate author of the Bible, and since truthfulness characterizes his communication to person, biblical theology is justified in upholding the full reliability of the Bible rightly interpreted. Scholars indifferent or hostile to the Bible's truth claims have impugned its integrity from earliest times. In the modern era a panoply of critical methods, with their underlying assumptions, makes skepticism toward the Bible as historically understood in the church the accepted order of the day. But thinkers of stature remain convinced that the Bible contains no material errors, although it does present conundrums that do not yet admit of universally accepted answers. Even critical tools, when employed judiciously rather than only skeptically, have helped confirm to many that assuming the veracity of the biblical text and message may not be any more uncritical than wholesale rejection of it.

Christ the Center. Jesus explicitly stated that the Scriptures point to him ( Luke 24:27 Luke 24:44 ; John 5:39 ). The New Testament writers follow Jesus in this conviction. The Old Testament writers are aware of a future fulfillment to Yahweh's present promises to his people; that fulfillment, while multifaceted, is summed up in Jesus messianic ministry. While biblical theology can err in overstating the ways the Old Testament foreshadows and predicts the Messiah, and the ways in which the New Testament finds its meaning in Jesus Christ, it may likewise err in denying him his central place in the grand drama of both biblical and world history.

Overview of Biblical Theology. Biblical theologians have proposed various methods of going about their task. Some stress the Bible's key integrating themes: covenant, the exodus, the kingdom of God, promise and fulfillment, God's glory, reconciliation, and many others. Some stress the relationship of Scripture's various parts to Jesus Christ. Some see the proper center of biblical theology as being God himself or his mighty Acts of deliverance. Still others stress the similarities between biblical statements of the past and confessional statements that have arisen in the history of the church.

While there are strengths to each of these approaches, there are also limitations. None alone is adequate. This is not surprising, since God, his ways, and the writings that convey knowledge of him defy reduction to even the most skilled human organization and exposition. Many would agree that the best method must be multiplex in nature.

Moreover, any approach must factor in the progressive and historical dimension of the Bible's theology. What God brought about, he accomplished gradually over the course of time. The theology of the Bible unfolds in the course of the events it describes and sometimes precipitates. Below is a survey of biblical theology centering on its historical rise and progression.

Creation and Fall. The early chapters of Genesis, corroborated by subsequent statements in both Old Testament and New Testament, affirm that God created the world by fiat decree ("And God said cf. Heb 11:3 ), not out of preexisting matter. God alone is eternal; matter is not. In its primordial state the created order was pristine and unspoiled — "very good" ( Gen 1:31 ).

Crowning six days (whether literal or metaphorical) of creative activity, God brought humankind into being. Both male and female were part of God's creative intention from the beginning ( 1:27 ), yet Adam was created first and then Eve as his companion (2:18). Their complementary (not interchangeable) natures and roles precede rather than rise out of the sin into which they fell.

Evil's origin is shrouded in considerable (not utter) mystery, but it was personified in a serpentine figure of intelligence and beauty who beguiled both human inhabitants of Eden (chap. 3). The outcome was estrangement from God and a future marked with pain and woe. Yet the curse of sin is ameliorated from the start by a God who seeks sinners to redeem them (3:9). His majesty in creation is, if anything, exceeded by his graciousness in redemption.

Covenant and Captivity. Genesis 4-11 moves rapidly through the vicissitudes of early humankind to the time of Noah. Humankind becomes so corrupt that a sweeping response is called for. Despite Noah's faithful preaching ( 2 Peter 2:5 ), few repent in view of the coming flood. Nearly universal loss of human life results. God covenants establishes terms under which redemptive relationship to him rather than judgment are possible with the remnant, Noah and his kin ( Gen 9:1-17 ), foreshadowing the covenant par excellence with Abraham lying yet in the future.

Despite God's covenant initiative, the debacle at Babel ( 11:1-9 ) documents humankind's continued disposition to rebellion. Yet God's disposition to save is greater still. He chooses Abram through whom to redeem a people, thereby blessing all the nations of the earth ( 12:3 ). To Abram, later called Abraham ( 17:5 ), the Hebrew people trace their ancestry. Subsequently this people becomes known as the Jews, from whom Christ is descended. The line from Abraham to the Savior of humankind is in that sense direct.

Abraham is saved through his trust in God's saving mercy alone, as atonement for sin and hope for the future ( 15:6 ). This trust does not exclude but rather presupposes his obedient responsiveness to God's revealed will ( 22:18 ); "faith" and "faithfulness" are mutually conditioning. Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac, halted by an angel, foreshadows God's own sacrifice for sin millennia hence, just as his wife Sarah's conception of a son at the age of ninety prefigures resurrection from the dead ( Rom 4:17-25 ).

Abraham's descendants (Isaac, Jacob) bear the responsibility of the covenant God made with their father, but they seldom rise to his level of integrity in seeking the Lord. From Jacob's, or Israel's ( 35:10 ) sons come heads of Israel's twelve tribes. One of the youngest of these, Joseph, is preserved by God through kidnapping and imprisonment in Egypt. His rise to power there as adjutant second only to Pharaoh himself sets the stage for a captivity of Israel's descendants some four centuries in length, in keeping with God's promise to Abraham ( 15:16 ). The closing chapters of Genesis and the beginning of Exodus chronicle this saga.

Torah and Theocracy. By God's own initiative and power, Moses arises to lead God's people out of their bondage. Their deliverance is a direct result of God's covenant with Abraham ( Exod 2:24 ). Following revelation of his own name for himself (Yahweh) to Moses ( 3:14 ), God breaks Pharaoh's stranglehold on the hapless Israelites. The first Passover (chap. 12) averts the death angel's visitation. It also sets the stage for the dramatic exodus from Egypt through the Red (or Reed) Sea ( 13:17-22 ), a historical precedent and enduring symbol of divine deliverance by God's own hand in all ages since.

While knowledge of God's moral character and will was not unknown among God's people prior to Moses, it is revealed in fuller and more definite form, and in a more discrete social context, at Mount Sinai (chap. 19). This instruction, epitomized by the Decalogue or Ten Commandments, does not set aside, but rather, gives a vehicle for living within the Abrahamic covenant. In the law Israel receives a moral, social, and religious charter through which God will further his redemptive will for centuries to come. His aim to bless all nations in keeping with his promise to Abraham is still at work. While parts of this law appear to have their fulfillment primarily in their own day and time, others are restated in the New Testament, and all retain value and relevance ( Rom 15:4 ; 1 Cor 10:11 ). The basic dynamic of God's people honoring their Lord through fidelity to his revealed written word is basic to the faith that both Old Testament and New Testament model and prescribe.

Along with Moses a precursor of the Messiah ( Exod 18:18 ; cf. Acts 3:20-23 )and the law, come Aaron and the priesthood. Bloody sacrifices could not in themselves furnish atonement for sins any more than legal adherence to the Mosaic moral code. Yet both sacrificial cult and legal requirement were continual reminders of God's disapproval of sin and his offer of reconciliation to the contrite of heart. As such they pointed to the perfect sacrifice and fulfiller of the law, Jesus Christ.

The five Old Testament books of Moses, the Pentateuch, set forth a lofty practical and spiritual agenda. The Israelites in Moses' wake at first uphold God's honor, crossing the Jordan under divine leadership as administered by Joshua. They then submit to circumcision ( Josh 5 ), a reaffirmation of submission to the Lord revealed at Sinai in contrast to their parents' chronic disbelief ( 1 Cor 10:5 ; Heb 3:19 ). Yet even as Joshua passes from the scene, the Israelites succumb to the idolatry of the lands they have conquered. A pattern of spiritual degeneration and periodic divine deliverance marks the era described by the Book of Judges.

God's tenacious striving with his people for their deliverance takes a new turn in the time of Samuel. As a prophet, one especially called and enabled by God to speak on his behalf, it falls to him to appoint Israel's first earthly king, Saul.

Monarchy and Apostasy. From the time of Saul (ca. 1020 b.c.) to the fall of Jerusalem (586 b.c.), God works through kings and their subject peoples to achieve his ends. R. Bultmann's quip that the Old Testament is not a history of redemption but of disaster (Unheilsgeschichte) is overly dour, yet captures an important dimension of this segment of Old Testament history and thus its theology. God faithfully raises up and blesses leaders who are charged with guiding God's people in God's ways. There are signal successes, but the general drift is lower than the high calling God extends.

David is the central figure, his reign prefiguring the messianic kingdom itself. His hymns of praise, contrition, and instruction (the psalms, not all attributable to David) are timely yet timeless models of spiritual insight and thus central to the focus of biblical theology. Likewise the wisdom (given explicitly by God: 1 Kings 3:12 ) of his son Solomon stands at the center of an equally weighty literary corpus for biblical-theological work, the so-called wisdom literature. This material furnishes a gnomic counterpart to the more prevalent Old Testament literary forms of narrative and law. Biblical theology minimizes the theology distinct to any of these Old Testament forms at the peril of attenuating Scripture's full message.

During the monarchy, as already in centuries previous, prophets consistently warn of drifting away from the Lord and toward the religious though godless ways of Israel's neighbors. Nathan rebukes David; Ahijah and Iddo speak to Solomon's times; Elijah and Elisha minister to the northern kingdom of Israel after its split from Judah to the south following Solomon's reign. The office of prophet is central to the Old Testament. Like the Old Testament office of priest and king, it not only actualizes God's redemptive work in Old Testament times but also foreshadows the offices fulfilled by the Messiah yet to come.

The drift that God's prophets decry is documented by writing prophets like Isaiah, Hosea, Micah, and Amos. The northern kingdom falls into apostasy and finally judgment at the hand of Assyria (722 b.c.). The southern kingdom is favored with spiritual renewals under noble kings like Hezekiah and Josiah. Yet it, too, fails to give God his due, as Jeremiah particularly makes clear. In 587 b.c. Babylonia appears to shatter forever the regnancy of the line of David. Jeremiah's doleful lamentations bespeak the despondency of those who await, now with virtually no visible consolation, the deliverance and glory promised to their forefathers since Abraham.

Restoration and Remnant. Jeremiah's hope ( Jer 31 ), grounded in God's revelation to previous prophets like Moses, David, and Isaiah, finds eloquent expression in Ezekiel and Daniel. They too experience the ravages of deportation to Babylon but cling to and proclaim the continued validity of God's earlier promises. Inspired no doubt by this prophetic guidance, small bands begin to return from Babylon to rebuild Jerusalem (ca. 520 b.c.), spurred on by Haggai and Zechariah. Other waves of repatriates under Nehemiah and Ezra give a boost to the work some decades later (ca. 450 b.c.). The final book of the Old Testament testifies to their labor, yet decries a people still divided in their loyalties between God and their own willfulness. That same book upholds the promise of vindication for all who turn to the covenant God in repentance, and pliant trust in a coming deliverer ( Mal 4 ) whose work will furnish the means of their vindication. That deliverer will also mete out eternal judgment to those hostile or indifferent to the covenant God.

The truly faithful few their number seems seldom if ever to constitute a hegemony among Abraham's physical descendants throughout Old Testament history appear to dwindle steadily once the Old Testament period proper ends. The children of Abraham and the land of promise languish under the rule of Persia, which is terminated abruptly by the Greeks in the 320s b.c., who are in turn succeeded by Egyptian and then Syrian overlords. During these decades the religious forms and theological idioms of the Old Testament, diverse in themselves, are transformed into patterns that give Judaism as seen in New Testament times its distinctive faces. A period of Jewish independence (165-163 b.c.) is cut off by the Romans, who appoint Herod the Great as administrator of Galilee, Judea, and their environs around 38 b.c.

Isaiah had spoken of a time of great darkness when the Lord himself would visit his people ( 9:1-7 ). A biblical-theological survey of the Old Testament and its aftermath finds that time to have arrived in the days of Jesus' birth.

Fulfillment and Deliverance. The genealogies of both Matthew and Luke testify to the intrinsic connection of Jesus' coming with God's purpose and work in previous epochs. Luke 1-2 describes the Old Testament hopes of figures like Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Simeon, and Anna as these all voice confidence in the fidelity of God to his Old Testament promises.

In Jesus of Nazareth God's deliverance and fulfillment arrive. God's reign, graphically and variously prefigured in Old Testament events and institutions, is actually at hand. John the Baptist electrifies a religiously fragmented and politically oppressed nation as the divine voice echoes once again through the prophetic ministry. Jesus, who is also seen as a prophet ( Mark 8:28 ), reaps the benefit of this excitement. Like John, he preaches repentance and the imminence of God's kingdom. Unlike John, who pointed to another, Jesus calls men and women to himself.

Over a span of some three years Jesus traverses the lands of Galilee, Judea, Samaria, and adjoining districts. He devotes special attention to a group of twelve who will carry on his work once he departs, but he also issues a call and instruction to the (predominantly but not exclusively Jewish) masses. His message targets ethnic Israel but has application to all peoples, even during his lifetime. His teachings, sublime by any reckoning, cannot by separated from a consciousness of unique filial relationship to God. He appeared to be asserting that he was in some sense God's equal. His teaching must also be seen in the light of his insistence that he came to bring deliverance, not through mastery of knowledge he transmits, but through personal trust in the sacrificial, saving death he undergoes ( Mark 8:31 ; Mark 10:32-34 Mark 10:45 ). The four Gospels concur in presenting the climax of Jesus' coming, not in his miracles, wisdom, or ethics, great as these are, but in his atoning death and vindicating resurrection.

Jesus' ministry, then, is the culmination of God's saving plan established in Old Testament times. His call to repentance and offer of new life fulfills the prophetic office; his sacrificial death and mediatorial role fulfill the role of an eternal high priest; the rule he possesses ( John 18:37 ) in David's train establishes him as King of kings, the invisible God's incarnate regent over all space, time, and history. The messianic deliverance already foretold in Eden ( Gen 3:15 ) finds definitive expression in the Messiah Jesus. But his story outlives his earthly life.

The Age to Come. Not clearly foreseen, apparently, by either Old Testament prophets or the earliest New Testament disciples, was the already-not yet complexion of the messianic age. While it dawned with Jesus' advent, and in particular with his resurrection, the full sun of the heavenly day awaits his return.

Jesus established the church as the focus of the Father's ongoing redemptive presence, through the Spirit, until the time of the Son's return. While all the New Testament writings play a role in testifying to this, Acts describes how it was lived out in the first three decades following Christ, while the New Testament Epistles instruct and steer the postresurrection people of God in those same generations and beyond.

Original disciples of Jesus, like Peter and John, play central roles in the church's early rise, but in retrospect pride of place belongs to Paul in important respects. The clarity of his God-given insights into the apostolic office, the nature of life "in Christ, " justification by grace through faith, the mission of the church to Jew and Gentile alike, the ongoing place of ethnic Israel in the divine plan, the sanctity of marriage and the sex roles God ordained, the practical outworkings of Christ's Spirit all these and more are the priceless heirlooms granted to the church, largely Gentile since first-century times, through Paul, an ex-Pharisee. He not only proclaimed but was perhaps the most notable example of the efficacy of the cross of Christ he preached.

Meanwhile, the spiritual descendants of the apostles still look for the full manifestation of the kingdom Jesus promised to establish at his second coming. They await that day in ongoing worship, sacrificial regard for one another (love), growth in the grace and knowledge that Christ and Scripture impart, and outreach to a world both hungry for and hostile toward the gospel. Eschatologically oriented portions of both Old Testament and New Testament, in particular the Book of Revelation, furnish rich resources for reflection and guidance.

Past and Future of the Discipline The role of the Bible in Christian thought over the centuries has varied widely. Until relatively recently biblical theology as a distinct discipline did not exist. Theology drew its verities directly from the biblical text, often with little linguistic, historical, and hermeneutical sophistication. The theological (and sometimes political or philosophical) commitments of church leaders dominated the way the Bible was read. This too seldom resulted in interpretation that was sensitive to the Bible's original meaning in its setting.

With the rise of critical thought associated with Descartes (1596-1650) and Kant (1724-1804), the teaching of the church (as well as the Bible) was seen in a new light. Critical rationality could separate the temporal husk of the biblical writings from their enduring kernel. Thus one dogma, that of the church, was replaced by another that of Enlightenment rationalism and its progeny. It was at this time that biblical theology as a distinct discipline made its appearance.

Since that time biblical theology has tended to draw its certainties from trends in the larger academic world. Most biblical scholars "have allowed their world-view and historical method to be given them by their culture" (R. Morgan). For much of the twentieth century Bultmann's existentialist reading of the New Testament has dominated. In Old Testament theology, works by luminaries like Procksch, Eichrodt, Vriezen, Jacob, and von Rad have commanded attention. Yet both Old Testament and New Testament theology, like mainline theological thought generally, are currently in disarray. Many Old Testament and New Testament scholars openly reject classic Christian understanding of the Bible, finding neither unity nor a saving message in it and certainly not definitive truth. Some even reject the possibility of Old Testament or New Testament theology, let alone biblical theology as a combination of the two, convinced that critical analysis of the Bible can result in nothing more than what ephemeral and disputed literary or social science methods yield.

Many scholars will continue to walk in the lights, or shadows, of the disintegrative, pluralistic, and deconstructive impulses that characterize Western thought at the end of the millennium. Evangelical thinkers can learn much about the Bible from their observations and even more about articulating the Bible's message in the idioms of the age.

Yet biblical theology has suffered enough at the hands of idioms that have garbled the Bible's message through the enthronement of conceptualities foreign to it. In 1787, J. P. Gabler inaugurated the discipline, calling for it to rescue the Bible from the dogmatic chains of the church. Today the dogmatic bonds of modernity atheism, post- and Neo-Marxism, relativism and reductionism, selfish materialism, narcissistic individualism, New Age spiritism, feminism are as destructive of biblical theology as any chains ever imposed by the church.

To avoid furthering merely one more -ism, interpreters faithful to the biblical subject matter need to let the sources' certainties furnish them with their own. (With all due respect to current critiques of foundationalism, if all statements are ultimately functions of selves wrapped up in their basic beliefs, then all human expression is solipsism, and the possibility of not only biblical theology but all rational inquiry is called in question.)

Biblical theology will move forward, if it does, as its practitioners know, love, and submit to the God of the Bible rather than the ideologies of the age. God is not a composite of the latest critical theories. This is not to denigrate scholarship but to recognize that God's word, if living and true, calls for substantially (not totally) different approaches to it than post-Enlightenment academic theology in its present forms furnishes. Biblical literacy in the church, to say nothing of biblical redemption in the world, is at stake. Both church and world could gain transforming conviction from the fruit of a discipline humble enough to discern, and brave enough to advocate, the ancient yet contemporary verities that biblical theology is charged to bring to light.

Robert W. Yarbrough

Bibliography. W. Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, 2 vols.; D. Guthrie, New Testament Theology; G. Hasel, Old Testament Theology: Basic Issues in the Current Debate and New Testament Theology: Basic Issues in the Current Debate; B. Ollenburger et al., eds., The Flowering of Old Testament Theology; R. Muller, The Study of Theology; H. Rä sä en, Beyond New Testament Theology; A. Schlatter, The Nature of New Testament Theology; K. Scholder, The Birth of Modern Critical Theology; G. Vos, Biblical Theology.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.

Bibliography Information

Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Biblical Theology'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology". . 1997.


bib'-li-kal the-ol'-o-ji:


1. Definition

2. Relation to Dogmatics

3. Place and Method of Biblical Theology

4. Relation to Scientific Exegesis


1. Its Rise in Scientific Form

2. Patristic and Scholastic Periods

3. Biblical Efforts in 17th and 18th Centuries

4. Old Testament Theology in First Half of 19th Century

5. New Testament Theology in the 19th Century

6. Old Testament Theology in Second Half of 19th Century

7. Bearings of Criticism on Old Testament Theology


1. Divergent Views of Old Testament Divisions

2. Law and Prophecy

3. Primal Prophetism and Final Judaism

4. Place of Mosaism

5. Nature of Israel's Religious Development


$ I. Biblical Theology As a Science.$

1. Definition:

Biblical theology seems best defined as the doctrine of Biblical religion. As such it works up the material contained in the Old Testament and the New Testament as the product of exegetical study. This is the modern technical sense of the term, whereby it signifies a systematic representation of Biblical religion in its primitive form.

Biblical theology has sometimes been taken to signify not alone this science of the doctrinal declarations of the Scriptures, but the whole group of sciences Concerned with the interpretation and exposition of the Scriptures. In that wider view of Biblical theology, the term exegetical theology has been used to define and include the group of sciences already referred to. But the whole weight of preference seems, in our view, to belong to the narrower use of the term Biblical theology, as more strictly scientific.

2. Relation to Dogmatics:

This is not to confound the science of Biblical theology with that of dogmatics, for their characters are sharply distinguished. The science of dogmatics is a historico-philosophical one; that of Biblical theology is purely historic. Dogmatics declares what, for religious faith, must be regarded as truth; Biblical theology only discovers what the writers of the Old Testament and the New Testament adduce as truth. This latter merely ascertains the contents of the ideas put forward by the sacred writers, but is not concerned with their correctness or verification. It is the what of truth, in these documentary authorities, Biblical theology seeks to attain. The why, or with what right, it is so put forward as truth, belongs to the other science, that of dogmatics.

3. Place and Method of Biblical Theology:

Biblical theology is thus the more objective science; it has no need of dogmatics; dogmatics, on the other hand, cannot be without the aid of Biblical theology. The Biblical theologian should be a Christian philosopher, an exegete, and, above all, a historian. For it is in a manner purely historical that Biblical theology seeks to investigate the teaching, in whole, of each of the sacred writers. Each writing it studies in itself, in its relation to the others, and in its place in history taken as a whole. Its method is historical-genetic. The proper place of Biblical theology is at the head of historical theology, where it shines as a center of light. Its ideal as a science is to present a clear, complete and comprehensive survey of the Biblical teachings.

4. Relation to Scientific Exegesis:

In pursuance of this end, Biblical theology is served by scientific exegesis, whose results it presents in ordered form so as to exhibit the organic unity and completeness of Biblical religion. The importance of Biblical theology lies in the way it directs, corrects and fructifies all moral and dogmatic theology by bringing it to the original founts of truth. Its spirit is one of impartial historical inquiry.

$ II. History of Biblical Theology.$

1. Its Rise in Scientific Form:

Biblical theology, in any truly scientific form, dates only from the 18th century. Offspring as it was of German rationalism, it has yet been found deserving of cultivation and scientific study by the most orthodox theology. Indeed, Pietism, too, urged its claims as Biblical dogma, over against the too scholastic dogma of orthodoxy.

2. Patristic and Scholastic Periods:

The Patristic theology, no doubt, was Biblical, and the Alexandrian School deserves special praise. The scholastic theology of the Middle Ages leaned on the Fathers rather than on the Bible. Biblical theology, in spirit, though not in form, found a revival at the Reformation. But this was early followed by a 17th century type of scholasticism, polemical and confessional.

3. Biblical Efforts in 17th and 18th Centuries:

Even in that century, however, efforts of a more purely Biblical character were not wanting, as witness those of Schmidt, Witsius and Vitringa. But throughout the entire 18th century there were manifest endeavors to throw off the scholastic yoke and return to Biblical simplicity. Haymann (1708), Busching (1756), Zachariae (1772) and Storr (1793), are examples of the efforts referred to. But it was from the rationalistic side that the first vindication of Biblical theology as a science of independent rank was made. This merit belonged to Gabler (1787), who urged a purely historical treatment of the Bible, and was, later, shared by his colleague, G. L. Bauer, who issued a Biblical Theology of the New Testament (Ger) in four parts (1800-1802). More independent still was the standpoint assumed by C. F. Ammon in his Biblische Theologie (2nd edition, 1801- 2). Ammon does not fail to apprehend the historical character of our science, saying that Biblical theology should deal only with the "materials, fundamental ideas, and results of Biblical teaching, without troubling itself about the connection of the same, or weaving them into an artificial system."

4. Old Testament Theology in First Half of 19th Century:

The influence of Schleiermacher was hardly a fortunate one, the Old Testament being sundered from the New Testament, and attention centered on the latter. Kayser (1813) and, still more, DeWette, who died in 1850, pursued the perfecting of our science, particularly in matters of method. Continuators of the work were Baumgarten-Crusius (1828), Cramer (1830) and Colln, whose work was posthumously presented by D. Schulz in 1836. It was in the second quarter of the 19th century that the Biblical theology of the Old Testament began to receive the full attention it deserved. It has been declared the merit of Hegel's philosophy to have taught men to see, in the various Biblical systems of doctrine, a complete development, and Hegel did, no doubt, exert a fertilizing influence on historical inquiry. But it must also be said that the Hegelian philosophy affected Biblical theology in a prejudicial manner, as may be seen in Vatke's a priori construction of history and doctrine in his work, Die bib. Theologie (1835), and in Bruno Bauer's Die Religion des AT (1838-39), which disputed but did not improve upon Vatke. Steudel (1840), Oehler (1845) and Havernick (1848) are worthy of particularly honorable mention in this Old Testament connection. In his Theology of the Old Testament (3rd edition, 1891; American edition, 1883) G. F. Oehler excellently maintained the close connection between the Old Testament and the New Testament, which Hengstenberg had already emphasized in 1829.

5. New Testament Theology in the 19th Century:

The Biblical theology of the New Testament was furthered by the memorable Neander. In 1832, he first issued his Planting and Training of the Christian Church, while his Life of Jesus first appeared in 1837. In this latter work, he summarized the doctrine of the Redeemer, while the former presented the doctrinal teaching of the apostolic writers in such wise as to show the different shades of thought peculiar to each of them, pointing out, at the same time, "how, notwithstanding all difference, there was an essential unity beneath, unless one is deceived by the form, and how the form in its diversity is easily explained." C. F. Schmid improved in some respects upon Neander's work in his excellent Biblical Theology of the New Testament, issued (1853) after his death by Weizsacker (new edition, 1864). In Schmid's work, the Biblical theology of the New Testament is presented with objectivity, clearness and penetrating sympathy.

Hahn's Theology of the New Testament (1854) came short of doing justice to the diverse types of doctrinal development in the New Testament. The work of G. V. Lechler on the apostolic and post-apostolic age, was, in its improved form of 1857, much more important. E. Reuss, in 1852, issued his valuable History of the Christian Theology of the Apostolic Age, a complete and critical work, but not sufficiently objective in its treatment. The Prelections on New Testament Theology of F. C. Baur, head of the Tubingen school, exemplify both the merits and the defects of the school. They are critical, independent and suggestive, but lacking in impartiality. They were published by his son after his death (1864). A new edition of these lectures on New Testament theology was issued by Pfleiderer in 1893.

Having first dealt with the teachings of Jesus, Baur then set out the materials of the New Testament theology in three periods, making Paul well-nigh the founder of Christianity. For him only four epistles of Paul were genuine products of the apostolic age, namely, Romans, the two Corinthians, Galatians, together with the Revelation. To the growth and history of the New Testament Baur applied the method of the Hegelian dialectic, and, though powerful and profound, displayed a lack of sane, well-balanced judgment. Yet so conservative a scholar as Weiss gave Baur the credit of having "first made it the problem of criticism to assign to each book of the New Testament its place in the history of the development of primitive Christianity, to determine the relations to which it owes its origin, the object at which it aims, and the views it represents." Among Baur's followers may be noted Pfleiderer, in his Paulinism (1873).

The Theology of the New Testament, by J. J. Van Oosterzee (English edition, 1870), is a serviceable book for students, and the New Testament Theology of A. Immer (1878), already famous for his hermeneutical studies, is noteworthy. Chief among subsequent cultivators of the Biblical theology of the New Testament must be reckoned B. Weiss, whose work in two volumes (English edition, 1882-83) constitutes a most critical and complete, thorough and accurate treatment of the subject in all its details:

W. Beyschlag, whose New Testament Theology (English edition, in 2 volumes, 1895) is also valuable; H. Holtzmann, whose treatise on New Testament Theology (1897) dealt in a critical fashion with the doctrinal contents of the New Testament. Holtzmann's learning and ability are great, but his work is marred by naturalistic presuppositions. The French work on Theology of the New Testament, by J. Boron (2 volumes, 1893-94) is marked by great independence, skill and fairness. The Theology of the New Testament, by W. F. Adeney (1894), and the yet more recent, and very attractively written, work with the same title, by G. B. Stevens (1899), bring us pretty well up to the present state of our science in respect of the New Testament.

6. Old Testament Theology in Second Half of the 19th Century:

Coming back to the Biblical theology of the Old Testament in the second half of the 19th century, we find A. Klostermann's Investigations into the Old Testament Theology, which appeared in 1868. The Old Testament theology, no less than that of the New Testament, was set forth by that great scholar, H. Ewald, in four volumes (1871-75; English edition (first part), 1888). His interest in New Testament theology was due to his strong feeling that the New Testament is really the second part of the record of Israel's revelation. A. Kuenen dealt with the Religion of Israel in two volumes (English edition, 1874-75), writing nobly but with defective insight into, and comprehension of, the higher religious ideas of Israel. F. Hitzig's Prelections (1880) deal with theology of the Old Testament, as part of their contents. H. Schultz treated of the Old Testament Theology in two volumes (1st edition, 1869; 5th edition, 1896; English edition, 1892), in a careful, mainly just, and, by comparison, well-balanced handling of the development of its religious ideas.

We have not touched upon writers like Smend, for example, in his History of Old Testament Religion (1893), and J. Robertson, in his Early Religion of Israel (2nd edition, 1892), who treat of the Biblical theology of the Old Testament only in a way subsidiary to the consideration of the historico-critical problems. The Conception of Revelation in the Old Testament was dealt with by F. E. Konig in 1882 in a careful and comprehensive manner, and with regard to the order and relation of the documents, revelation in Israel being taken by him in a supranaturalistic sense. Significant also for the progress of Old Testament Biblical theology was The Theological and the Historical View of the Old Testament, by C. Siegfried (1890), who insisted on the development of the higher religion of Israel being studied from the elder prophets as starting-point, instead of the law.

Mention should be made of Biblical Study:

Its Principles, Methods and History, by C. A. Briggs (1883; 4th edition, 1891); of the important Compendium of the Biblical Theology of the Old and the New Testament by K. Schlottmann (1889); of E. Riehm's valuable Old Testament Theology (1889); and of G. Dalman's Studies in Biblical Theology--the Divine name and its history--in 1889. Also, of the Old Testament Theology of A. Duff (1891); A. Dillmann's Handbook of Old Testament Theology, edited by Kittel (189:5); and of Marti's edition of the Theology of the Old Testament of A. Kayser (3rd edition, 1897).

Of Theology of the Old Testament, by A. B. Davidson (1904), it may be said that it does full justice to the idea of a progressive development of doctrine in the Old Testament, and is certainly divergent from the view of those who, like Cheyne, treat the Old Testament writings as so many fragments, from which no theology can be extracted. Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, by B. Stade (1905), is the work of a distinguished representative of the modern critical views, already famous for his work on the history of Israel (1887). The Theology of the Old Testament by W. H. Bennett (1906) is a clear and useful compendium of the subject.

7. Bearings of Criticism on Old Testament Theology:

Recent works like The Problem of the Old Testament by James Orr (1905), Old Testament Critics by Thomas Whitelaw (1903), and Essays in Pentateuchal Criticism, by Harold M. Wiener (1909), deal with the critical questions, and do not concern us here, save to remark that they are not without bearing, in their results, upon theology of the Old Testament. Such results are, e.g. the insistences, in Orr's work, on the unity of the Old Testament, the higher than naturalistic view of Israel's religious development, the discriminate use of Divine names like Elohim and Yahweh, and so forth; and the express contention in Whitelaw's work, that the critical hypotheses are not such as can yield "a philosophically reasonable theology" (p. 346). Indeed, it must not be supposed that even works, like that of S. R. Driver, Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament (first issued in 1891), axe without resultant influence on Biblical theology.

So far from that, the truth is that there is probably no result of the readjustment of the history and literature of the Old Testament so important as its bearings on the Biblical theology of the Old Testament. For the order and the method of revelation are most surely involved in the order and relation of the books or documents, and the course of the history. The progress of the revelation ran parallel with the work of God in Nature and in the growth of human society. Hence, the reconstruction of the historical theology of the Old Testament will take much time and study, that the full value of the Old Testament may be brought out as that of an independent and permanent revelation, with characteristic truths of its own. Meantime, the reality of that revelation, and the teleological character of the Old Testament, have been brought out, in the most signal manner, by theological scholars like Dorner, Dillmann, Kittel, Kautsch, Schultz and others, who feel the inadequacy of natural development or "human reflection" to account for Old Testament th eology, and the immediacy of God's contact with man in Old Testament times to be alone sufficient to account for a revelation so weighty, organically connected, dynamically bound together, monotheistic and progressive.

$ III. Divisions of Biblical Theology.$

1. Divergent Views of Old Testament Divisions:

The divisions of Old Testament theology are matters of grave difficulty. For the newer criticism has practically transformed that mode of representing the process of Israel's religious development, which had been customary or traditional. On this latter view, the Patriarchal Age was succeeded by the Mosaic Age, with its law-giving under Moses, followed, after an intercalated period of Judges and monarchy, by the splendid Age of Prophecy. Then there was the Exile preparing the way, after the Return, for the new theocracy, wherein the Law of Moses was sought with more persistent endeavor, though not without darkly legalistic result. Such were the historic bases for Old Testament theology, but the modifications proposed by the new criticism are sufficiently serious. These it will be necessary to indicate, without going beyond the scope of this article and attempting criticism of either the one view or the other. It is the more necessary to do so, that finality has not been reached by criticism. We are only concerned with the difference which these divergent views make for Old Testament Biblical theology, whose reconstruction is very far from perfected.

2. Law and Prophecy:

That they do mean serious difference has been indicated in the historical part of this article. Most obtrusive of these differences is the proposal to invert the order of law and prophecy, and speak rather of the Prophets and the Law. For the Law is, on the newer view, taken to belong to the post-prophetic period--in short, to the period of the return from the Exile, whereas, in the traditional scheme of the order of revelation, the Law was found in full force both at the Exodus and the Return, with a dead-letter period between. The garment of legalism, the newer criticism asserts, could not have suited the Israelite nation in its early and undeveloped stage, as it does after the teachings of the prophets and the discipline of the Exile. Against this, the older scheme prefers the objection that an external and legalistic system is made the outcome of the lofty spiritual teaching of the prophets; the letter appears super-imposed upon the spirit. Criticism, however, postulates for the ritual codes of the Pentateuch an influence parallel in time with that of prophetism.

3. Primal Prophetism and Final Judaism:

Besides the adjustments of prophecy and law just referred to, the critical views postulate a primal period in which the religion of the prophets, with their view of Israel's vocation, was inculcated; also, a final period of Judaism, intercalated between the Return and the Maccabees, in which are seen at work the Levitical law, and various anti-legal tendencies. It must be obvious that attempts to integrate the Old Testament theology amid the prevailing uncertainties of criticism must be far from easy or final, even if the need and importance be felt of keeping the religious interest before even the historical in Old Testament study. For the Old Testament writers, religion was primary, history secondary and incidental, we may well believe.

4. Place of Mosaism:

We must be content to know less of the remote beginnings and initial stages of Israel's religious development, for, as A. B. Davidson remarked, "in matters like this we never can get at the beginning." J. Robertson deems criticism wrong in not allowing "a sufficient starting-point for the development," by which he means that pure prophetic religion needs "a pure pre-prophetic religion" to explain its more than "germinal or elementary character." It may be noted, too, how much greater place and importance are attached to Mosaism or Moses by critics like Reuss, Schultz, Bredenkamp and Strack, than by Wellhausen, who yet allows a certain substratum of actual and historical fact.

5. Nature of Israel's Religious Development:

It may be observed, further, that no one is under any compulsion to account for such a transformation, as even Wellhausen allows, in the slow growth from very low beginnings of the idea of Yahweh up to pure and perfect monotheism--among a non- metaphysical people--by the simple supposition of naturalistic theory. Evolutionary the critical hypothesis of the religious development of Israel may be, but that development was clearly not so exclusively controlled by human elements or factors as to exclude the presence of supernatural energy or power of revelation. It had God within it--had, in Dorner's phrase, "teleology as its soul." Thus, as even Gunkel declares, "Israel is, and remains, the people of revelation." This is why Israel was able to make--despite all retrograde tendencies--rectilinear progress toward a predestined goal--the goal of being what Ewald styled a "purely immortal and spiritual Israel." Old Testament theology does not seem to have sufficiently realized that the Old Testament really presents us with theologies rather than a theology--with the progressive development of a religion rather than with theological ideas resting on one historic plane.


$ I. Old Testament Literature:$

B. Stade, Biblische Theologie des A T, 1905; H. Schultz, A T Theologie, 5th edition, 1896; English edition, 1892; H. Ewald, Revelation:

Its Nature and Record, English edition, 1884; G F. Oehler, Theology of the Old Testament, English edition, 1874; A. Kuenen, The Religion of Israel to the Fall of the Jewish State, English edition, 1875; E. Riehm, AT Theologie, 1889; S. R. Driver, An Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament, 1st edition, 1891, A. B. Davidson, Theology the Old Testament, 1904; J. Orr, The Problem of the Old Testament, 1905; A. Duff, Old Testament Theology, 1891; J. Robertson, Early Religion of Israel, 2nd edition, 1892; W. R. Smith, The Old Testament in the Jewish Church, new edition, 1892; W. H. Bennett; The Theology of the Old Testament, 1896; T. K. Cheyne, Founders of Old Testament Criticism, 1893; T. Whitelaw, Old Testament Critics, 1903; W. G. Jordan, Biblical Criticism and Modern Thought, 1909; H. M. Wiener, Essays in Pentateuchal Crit icism, 1909; E. C. Bissell, The Pentateuch: Its Origin and Structure, 1885; D. K. V. Orelli, The Old Testament Prophecy, Amer. edition, 1885, English edition, 1893; B. Duhm, Die Theologogie der Propheten, 1875; E. Richre, Messianic Prophecy, 2nd English edition, 1891; C. I. Bredenkamp, Gesetz und Propheten, 1881; W. R. Smith, The Prophets of Israel, 1882; D. K. Schlottmann, Kompendium der biblischen Theologie des A. u. N. Testaments, 1889; A. T. Kirkpatrick, The Divine Library of the Old Testament, 1891; J. Lindsay, The Significance of the Old Testament for Modern Theology, 1896; R. Kittel, Scientific Study of the Old Testament, English edition, 1910.

$ II. New Testament Literature:$

W. Beyschlag, New Testament Theology, 2nd edition, 1896; English edition, 1895; H. Holtzmann, Lehrbuch der N T Theologie, 1897; B. Weiss, Lehrbuch der biblischen Theologie des New Testament, 7th edition, 1903; English edition, 1883; J. J. V. Oosterzee, Die Theologie des New Testament, 2nd edition, 1886; English edition, 1870; J. Boron, Theologie du Nouveau Testament, 1893-94; C. F. Schmid, Biblische Theologie des New Testament, new edition, 1864; G. B. Stevens, The Theology of the New Testament, 1899; F. C. Baur, Vorlesungen uber New Testament Theologie, 1864; W. F. Adeney, The Theology of the New Testament, 1894; A. C. McGiffert, A History of Christianity in the Apostolic Age, 1897; E. Reuss, History of Christian Theology in the Apostolic Age, English edition, 1872; H. H. Wendt, The Teaching of Jesus, English edition, 1892; A. B. Bruce, The Kingdom of God, 1890; J. Moorhouse, The Teaching of Christ, 1891; O. Pfleiderer, Der Paulinismus, 2nd edition, 1890; 2nd English edition, 1891; A. Sabatier, The Apostle Paul, English edition, 1891; G. B. Stevens, The Pauline Theology, 2nd edition, 1897; G. Matheso n, The Spiritual Development of Paul, 1890; E. Riehm, Der Lehrbegriff des Hebraerbriefs, 1867; B. Weiss, Der petrinische Lehrbegriff, 1855; G. B. Stevens, The Johannine Theology, 1894; B. Weiss, Der johanneische Lehrbegriff in seinen Grundzugen untersucht, 1862.

James Lindsay

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Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'BIBLICAL THEOLOGY'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". 1915.  

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