Biblical Theology and “Theological Interpretation of Scripture”

August 23, 2008 by

Great post, Mike (on the definition of BT), I like Rosner’s definition. It is interesting, in light of developments since that definition was published, that the first two words you cite are “Theological Interpretation.” The developments I’m thinking of are the Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible and Daniel J. Treier’s recent book Introducing Theological Interpretation of Scripture.

In a footnote in the introductory chapter of a book I’m working on [Lord willing, my book on the center of biblical theology will appear in the fall of 2010–please pray for me!], I briefly interact with Treier’s fivefold typology of ways to relate biblical theology to theological interpretation of Scripture.

Here is part of that footnote:

Daniel J. Treier has presented a “fivefold typology of ways to relate” biblical theology to “theological interpretation of Scripture,” and it seems to me that most evangelical biblical theologians would see themselves as occupying both Treier’s second and fourth categories—believing biblical theology that is both historical (category two) and literary (category four). Treier understands himself and “theological interpretation of Scripture” to be in the third category. Treier concedes that D. A. Carson, his example of someone who belongs in category two with its historical emphasis, has balanced his approach with more literary sensitivity, which Treier says belongs to category four (Daniel J. Treier, “Biblical Theology and/or Theological Interpretation of Scripture?” SJT 61 [2008], 16–31, the note on Carson is on p. 26 n. 24). Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that a historical emphasis prevailed among evangelicals in the twentieth century, with more and more attention being given to literary/narrative features near the end of the millennium and at the beginning of the twenty first century.

Note: Treier does not claim that theological interpretation of Scripture is the perfect balance of literature and history. . . I am responding to aspects of his categories not reproducing them.

A question regarding the relationship between theological interpretation of Scripture and biblical theology:

In the essay noted above, Treier writes (30): “The process of a biblical theology discipline . . . will involve a more historically and literarily focused approach, whereas the process of a systematic theology (or interdisciplinary theological interpretation of scripture programme) will involve a more literarily and philosophically focused approach.” It thus seems that Treier understands biblical theology as starting from history and exegesis and moving toward whole Bible, Christian theology (at least for evangelicals), while theological interpretation of Scripture starts from literature, philosophy (and perhaps historically orthodox systematic theology) and moves toward whole Bible, Christian theology. Is this an accurate way to think of these two programs (BT and th. int. of Scrptr): that both are, in a sense, moving in the same direction from different starting points?

New Testament Theology Re-Loaded!

August 23, 2008 by

In July of this year I was privileged to give the annual Tyndale House New Testament Lecture which was entitled: “New Testament Theology Re-Loaded: Integrating Biblical Theology and Christian Origins”. My aim was to set up a programme for NT Theology that does not shy away from the the act of theological interpretation but also takes into account the historical contingency of the New Testament writings. I tackled the subject by: (1) Detailing the pros and cons of Biblical Theology; (2) Detailing the pros and cons of Christian Origins; and (3) Proposing a separate programme called “New Covenant Theology” which explores the socio-historical context of the New Testament and the theological texture of its discourse. In the conclusion I wrote:

My own approach of pursuing a ‘Theology of the New Covenant’ recognizes the ecclesial context of Scripture and the sociological origins of the New Testament’s theological formulations.  New Covenant is the umbrella for the two entities of canon and community and theology emerges out of the relationship between them. This contention is validated by the observation that a biblical text is the testimony of a believing community to God’s act in Christ and its effect for his people. The Christian Bible only exists because certain faith communities wrote, received, and revered the Septuagint, the Gospels, Pauline letters, and the Apostolos as the Word of God. If we regard theology as emerging out of this interface between text and community then we are necessarily committed to a study of the history of the early church as the generative force behind Christian theology. We are equally committed to theology as the history of the effect of the text in the church. That will involve a socio-historical investigation of Christian Origins as the formative matrix for Christian theology.

My motivation for this approach is two-fold:

  • It is crucial to recognize the contingent circumstances and historical context in which the biblical authors wrote.
  • The necessity of moving beyond the descriptive model and beginning the task of theological synthesis by demonstrating the theological coherence of the New Testament.

So then, is it possible to reconcile Biblical Theology and Christian Origins in order to produce a New Testament Theology that is historically informed and theologically robust?

Biblical Theology – a Definition

August 23, 2008 by

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?

Welcome to This Biblical Theology Blog

August 22, 2008 by

This blog exists for the glory of God, in service to the church, to promote the study and discussion of biblical theology’s history, methodology, aims, achievements, developments, direction, and points of contact with other approaches to the study of the Bible. This will be a collaborative effort, and the purpose of this post is to introduce the contributors to the blog. Other contributors will likely be added later, but for now, this is who we are:

Dr. Desi Alexander is Director of Christian Training for the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, based at Union Theological College, having previously lectured for nearly 20 years in Semitic Studies at the Queen’s University of Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK. He co-edited the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (IVP) and has recently written a book on biblical theology, From Eden to the New Jerusalem, published in the UK by IVP and coming out soon in the US from Kregel. An elder in Fitzroy Presbyterian Church, he is married to Anne, and they have two children, Jane and David.

Dr. Michael Bird is Tutor in New Testament at the Highland Theological College in Dingwall, Scotland. He is an Australian and holds a Ph.D from the University of Queensland. Michael’s research interests include the historical Jesus, the Gospel of Mark, Pauline theology, New Testament theology, and Christian origins. He is married to Naomi and they have two children and together they attend Dingwall Baptist Church.

Dr. Steve Dempster is the Stuart E. Murray Professor of Religious Studies at Atlantic Baptist University, Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, where he has taught for the last twenty-four years.  His specialty is Old Testament Studies and Biblical Hebrew. He is passionately interested in the subject areas of biblical theology and Old Testament Canon. He has written papers in both fields and has published a book on Old Testament theology, Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible. He is married to Judy Ducsharm and they have six children:  Jessica, Joanna, Nathan, Michael, Holly and Victoria.

Dr. Jim Hamilton is Associate Professor of Biblical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, USA, having previously served as Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Houston campus and as the preaching pastor at Baptist Church of the Redeemer. He is married to Jill, and they have three sons.

Posting from Ireland, Scotland (by an Australian), Canada, and the United States, we are excited about the international character of this blog, and we hope it will serve you well. We seek to know God in Christ by the power of the Spirit as revealed in the Bible.

Thanks to Justin Taylor for the idea for this blog, and we are also grateful for the trail blazed by the Evangelical Text Criticism blog. In his initial post there, P. J. Williams wrote,

I want this forum to be robust in two ways: first, it is not going to be embarrassed about believing that the Bible is true and that the Bible is made up of particular words which come from God. Secondly, it is going to be a place where we discuss textual criticism based on a familiarity with the issues involved. . . .

The blog will not generally try to justify the historic evangelical perspective that says that the inspired text of the Bible is Greek for the NT and Hebrew (or Aramaic) for the OT. Justifications may emerge within this group, but it will be more profitable to those involved if we take this as our basis.

What is said there about text criticism can be applied here about biblical theology, and we hope you will find this blog profitable.