Biblical Theology – a Definition


What is “Biblical Theology”? Well, broadly put, it could be any theology that seeks to trace its origins from the Bible. It can also be used polemically: I do Biblical Theology but you do Dogmatic Theology, ergo, my Theology is more Biblical than yours! Probably the best definition I’ve found is that given by Brian Rosner (who is an Australian which ensures that all of his theological judgments are infallible when he speaks ex terra Australis). Rosner writes:

[T]heological interpretation of Scripture in and for the church. It proceeds with historical and literary sensitivity and seeks to analyse and synthesize the Bible’s teaching about God and his relations to the world on its own terms, maintaining sight of the Bible’s overarching narrative and Christocentric focus (Brian Rosner, ‘Biblical Theology,’ in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, eds. T.D. Alexander and B.S. Rosner [Leicester, England: IVP, 2000]: 10).

As I see it the constituent elements are:

  • Recognition of the ecclesial context of biblical intepretation
  • Attention to the Bible’s teaching on the Bible’s own terms and language
  • Placed in the context of the Bible’s redemptive-historical story-line
  • Emphasizes the christocentric centre of revelation

How does that sound for an operating definition for us to use here?

15 Responses to “Biblical Theology – a Definition”

  1. bzephyr Says:

    Does this operating definition adequately express the idea that Biblical theology seeks to find coherence in the whole? I can almost see an over-emphasis on the Bible’s diversity still fitting into this working definition, and I would think it could say a little more about the unity of the Bible. However, I do acknowledge that the words “overarching narrative” or “redemptive-historical story-line” hint at this, and so does “Christocentric focus/centre.”

    In light of this, I really appreciate the convictions expressed by Scott Hafemann and Paul House (2007) in the introduction to Central Themes in Biblical Theology: Mapping Unity in Diversity, (a recent volume that Stephen Dempster had a major part in) that…
    (1) “the Bible is a unity because it is the word of God, who is a unified and coherent being, and that a unified biblical theology should thus span the entire range of the Scriptures because they are all part of the written word of God”
    (2) “to do biblical theology is not merely to survey the contents of the Bible. In pursuit of an understanding of God and his ways, a biblical theology that spans the canon seeks not only to unpack the content, but also to establish the conceptual unity of the Scriptures as a whole as they unfold in human events.”
    (3) “these days doing whole-Bible biblical theology most likely should be a collaborative effort. The subject matter of biblical theology and the literature associated with it have grown too complex and the questions too many for most of us to pursue the task by working alone.”
    Obviously, you guys are working together on this blog under this third conviction, and I applaud your efforts! Looking forward to it.

  2. greenbaggins Says:

    Building on the above comment, I wonder also if the nature of the Bible as an organic unfolding of God’s truth, so crucial to BT, is as obvious in Rosner’s definition as it is, say, in Vos.

  3. John C. Poirier Says:


    I don’t care for the attempt to define “biblical theology” using the terminology of “theological interpretation”. As I see it, most of those rallying under the banner of “theological interpretation” are resolutely anti-historical criticism, and they intend the label “theological interpretation” to mean, first and foremost, precisely that sort of putting away of so-called Enlightenment reading strategies. For the life of me, I don’t understand how any reading of a theological passage shouldn’t be called “theological interpretation” (which is to say that the term really should be so underwhelming as to be useless), but that, of course, is a far cry from what is now being called “theological interpretation” in a technical sense.

    I know that proponents of “theological interpretation” are happy to acknowledge a certain lesser place for historical criticism, but they are not happy to say that historical criticism really gives us the true meaning of a passage, preferring instead to resort to canonical and narrative approaches, based on fundamentally opposed poetics.

    In short, I think that we cannot recover a truly biblical theology until we shut the door to this latest trojan horse.

  4. ryan Says:

    A great post that I think this blog could deal with is what is the difference between Biblical theology and systematic? I doubt a consensus would be reached but I have been in seminary for three years now and still no one can really answer this question.

  5. Philip Walker Says:

    As a layman to laymen, I tend to describe BT as “theology the way the Bible develops it” (or some variation on that theme). However, I can see that that assumes that people are basically agreed on evangelical doctrine, so that things like Scriptural unity and Christo-centricity are at least understood, if not consistently practised.

    This weblog looks like it should be a good read. I’ll be adding it to my watch-list.

  6. David Parker Says:

    I like that definition, and I also like what Philip Walker has emphasized about Biblical development of theology. I would also contend that one must do Biblical theology before systematic theology.

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