Biblical Theology

The Bible is much more than a collection of principles. Many modern preachers use it as such, but beneath the moralism and "life tips" to which it is often reduced is the story of God's dealings with humankind. Yet the Bible is also much more than a story—it's a story that tells us who God is, what he is like, and how we ought to respond to him.

It's not popular these days to find universal truth in a story. At best, stories are supposed to bring meaning to individual lives, and so talking about ourselves is much more popular than telling a story so vast it explains everything we want to know about life, the universe, and everything.

But propositional truth isn't very popular, either. Propositional truth is essentially spoken truth, meaning that all truth in the Bible is propositional truth because God spoke it. People don't want some universal truth looming over them, though, especially not if it comes from God. We're all free to create our own truth and meaning, or so the spirit of the age suggests.

In this milieu, where universal stories and propositional truth are equally distrusted, a book like the Bible is either thrown out or subjected to routine mutilation. Because, of course, the Bible contains both a cosmic story and propositional truth. In philosophic terms, such a text is called a metanarrative.

Biblical theology is essentially an attempt to unravel these twin strands. But unlike most literary analysis which simply starts at the beginning, Christian biblical theology starts in the middle, then goes to the beginning and works its way to the end. That's because biblical theology interprets the entire Word of God in light of the person and work of Christ.

The Bible can seem like a jumble of unrelated or vaguely related stories with some confusing doctrines thrown in. In fact, it's a unified narrative about God's people, and particularly about the representative of God's people, Jesus Christ (who also happens to be God himself in human flesh).

Interpreting the whole thing in light of Christ himself, therefore, isn't a stretch at all—it's the only interpretive method that makes any sense. Theology being the study of God, biblical theology is the study of God through the lens of his self-revelation both in the text of Scripture and in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

When engaging the text of the Bible this way, we need to play by its rules. It's the easiest thing in the world to simply dive in and say "Oh, this looks like Jesus!", whether it does or not, or whether the text supports our interpretation or not. We can't invent symbolism, but if we're doing our theology right we shouldn't need to.

Some of the easiest examples of finding Christ in the text appear very early. In Genesis chapter 3, God curses humanity for having broken his law and eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But he also makes a promise: that one would come who would crush the head of the serpent (Satan) and deliver his people from sin and death.

Bible scholars generally agree that Eve probably thought Cain, and later Seth, were this promised one, but the wait was much longer—Jesus Christ was the one promised, who defeated sin, death and the Devil on the cross and through his resurrection, and who delivers his people to God the Father to receive their eternal reward.

What's the benefit of studying the Bible this way? There are many, but one of the most important is that it helps Christians focus exclusively on Christ, who is our only Savior and hope in life and death. Only by training our gaze exclusively on him can we expect to think like and act like our Lord, and only by thinking and acting like him can we spread his Gospel.

Biblical theology isn't the only legitimate way to build doctrine, though the Bible is our only source for sound doctrine. Whether we're doing biblical theology or systematic theology, thorough exegesis is the only way to understand what the Bible actually says on any given topic, and the Bible is therefore our first and last authority.

The books we carry below take different approaches to biblical theology. Books by James Jordan and Peter Leithart focus on the story and motifs of the biblical narrative;The Christ of the Covenants and The Covenantal Gospel look at the biblical narrative through the lens of the covenant; and Graeme Goldsworthy's books are a blend of these approaches.

Biblical Theology by Geerhardus Vos (the mentor of Cornelius Van Til) is the classic in the field. His focus is the final revelation of God in Christ and the eschatology of the new creation. This book should only be read by those who've prepared—it's very difficult. We recommend the Goldsworthy Trilogy as a primer before jumping into Vos (who should be read slowly).

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.

 

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