Posted On August 1, 2022

The Nature of Biblical Theology and Its Relation to Both Exegesis and Systematic Theology

by | Aug 1, 2022 | Featured, The Gospel and the Christian Life

The Bible is a unified story that finds its climax and fulfillment in the Lord Jesus Christ. This article will analyze the nature of biblical theology and its relation to exegesis and systematic theology. It will be argued that biblical theology has a distinct nature that operates interconnectedly with exegesis and systematic theology. To support this argument, we will first address the presuppositions needed for biblical theology. Then, we will discuss the distinct nature and function of biblical theology. Finally, we will seek to demonstrate how biblical theology relates to both exegesis and systematic theology.

NECESSARY PRESUPPOSITIONS

To begin, it must be understood that every discipline has a set of presuppositions. It is impossible to come to a given text without any pre-existing convictions. To do biblical theology, one must understand that God has communicated to humanity in a final coherent and established canon of biblical books.[1] These diverse books have a unifying theme of redemption, culminating in the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, to do biblical theology properly, one must understand that we are coming to Scriptures, God’s inspired, authoritative, inerrant, and sufficient word. As is often said, when the Bible speaks, it is God speaking to us.

THE NATURE OF BIBLICAL THEOLOGY

What is the distinct nature and function of biblical theology? It must be noted that various scholars in the past and present have developed different definitions of biblical theology. It is also essential to recognize that Biblical Theology studies are done in the Old and New Testaments. For this brief article, let us focus our time on New Testament Biblical Theology. In its most basic form, New Testament theology is the study of the content found in the New Testament. It is not the study of peripheral matters, such as philosophy or extra-biblical literature. Alternatively, New Testament biblical theology finds its roots in the Scriptures themselves. The biblical theologian seeks to trace how God has progressively revealed himself to humanity, through various plot lines, in the grand meta-narrative of redemption. The goal of biblical theology is to “present the teaching of the Bible about God and his relations to the world in a way that lets the biblical texts set the agenda.”[2] In other words, this practice seeks to understand how each part of the Bible fits together with the grand meta-narrative of Scripture.

The biblical theologian’s task is twofold: he must analyze and synthesize the Scriptures. First, analysis involves identifying the “distinct theologies of the various corpora and books of the Bible in their own right.”[3] In the analysis process, time is taken to understand a subject’s unique and individual contribution to the progressive unfolding plan of salvation.

After the analysis, synthesis presents the theology of a particular theme or subject across the Bible. The ultimate concern for synthesis is to construct one single theology for the Bible in its entirety. Therefore, biblical theology “seeks to analyze and synthesize the Bible’s teaching about God and his relation to the world on its own terms, maintaining sight of the Bible’s overarching narrative and Christocentric focus.”[4] In sum, biblical theology has a distinct nature and function as a discipline. It is concerned with the study of the content found in the New Testament and how it is progressively revealed over time. However, it must be understood that biblical theology does not operate independently. Functionally speaking, biblical theology is informed by both exegesis and systematic theology. The relationship that each discipline has with one another is one of interconnectivity.

RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN DISCIPLINES

In this section, we will see that each distinct discipline, such as exegesis, systematic and biblical theology, work together when dealing with a biblical text. Exegesis’s essential function focuses on interpreting and understanding a text in its literary, historical, and theological context. In other words, exegesis seeks to interpret a text by analyzing the authorial intent. However, faithful exegesis will inevitably inform one’s biblical theology and vice versa. To do proper biblical theology, one must understand the given subject in its proper literary, historical, and theological context. Dr. Vanhoozer defines biblical theology as the following: It is a “theological, hermeneutical, and exegetical discipline,” which aims at recovering the intention of the given text and how it testifies to Christ.[5] Thus, exegesis and biblical theology both work together.

Similarly, systematic theology is a distinct discipline that seeks to organize and systematize theological reflection.[6] Systematic theology aims to rearticulate (synthesize) what the Bible has to say for a given subject. For example, the systematic theologian may ask the following, “What does the Bible say about the doctrine of man?”

After formulating a systematic question, the systematic theologian then presents a collection of biblical texts which would answer that question. The danger of systematic theology is to distance oneself from the text. If done wrongly, systematic theology can be used to proof-text your theological questions or ideas. To mitigate this, an excellent systematic theologian must see the interconnectivity of the various disciplines, such as exegesis and biblical theology. The systematic theologian who focuses on proper exegesis will guard himself against dangerously taking texts out of their proper canonical context.

Additionally, strong biblical theology will feed into strong systematic theology. Biblical theology will allow the systematic theologian to trace the development of key themes across redemptive history and ask necessary questions for today. Therefore, do not consider each theological disciple on its own. Rather, think of each discipline’s vital role in the health of the other. Both exegesis and systematic theology inform one’s biblical theology and vice versa.

CONCLUSION

In closing, this article has analyzed the nature of biblical theology and its relation to exegesis and systematic theology. This essay has shown us that Biblical theology is a distinct discipline, yet it operates in connection with exegesis and systematic theology. In other words, each discipline informs the other. To show this, we first looked at the necessary presuppositions for the biblical theologian. Then, we discussed the distinct nature and function of biblical theology. Finally, we concluded this essay by looking at biblical theology’s relation to exegesis and systematic theology. I pray that these tools would drive you deep into the Word of God so that you may encounter the God of the Word and see the glories of Jesus Christ from Genesis to Revelation.

References

[1] Eckhard J., Schnabel. “Scripture.” In New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. T. Desmond Alexander, Brian S. Rosner, D. A. Carson, Graeme Goldsworthy. (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity, 2000), 35.

[2] Brian S., Rosner. “Biblical Theology.” In New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. T. Desmond Alexander, Brian S. Rosner, D. A. Carson, Graeme Goldsworthy. (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity, 2000), 5.

[3] Ibid, 6.

[4] Brian. S., Rosner. “Biblical Theology.” In New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. T. Desmond Alexander, Brian S. Rosner, D. A. Carson, Graeme Goldsworthy, 10.

[5] K. J., Vanhoozer. “Exegesis and hermeneutics.” In New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. T. Desmond Alexander, Brian S. Rosner, D. A. Carson, Graeme Goldsworthy. (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity, 2000), 63.

[6] D. A., Carson. “Systematic Theology and Biblical Theology.” In New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. T. Desmond Alexander, Brian S. Rosner, D. A. Carson, Graeme Goldsworthy. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2000), 101.

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