What is biblical theology?
If theology means the study of God, doesn’t biblical theology just mean making sure that what we believe about God comes from the Bible?
The Apostle Paul says as much to Titus: “Teach what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1 ESV). Here, Paul means that all teaching in Christian churches ought to align with the teaching of the Scriptures.
Paul commands this to ensure that “all of our theology is biblical.” This is right and we do want all of our ideas about God to come from his own Word, the Bible.
However, “biblical theology” as a discipline means a bit more than ensuring our theology aligns with the Bible.
What Unifies the Bible?
You’ve probably heard the Bible referred to as a “library” or a “collection of 66 books.” In an important sense, this is true. The Bible is made up of various books, as well as genres, like historical narrative, apocalyptic literature, and poetry.
Yet this is not the only sense in which we should understand the Bible. The Bible is made up of many books—but it’s also one book. The Bible tells one story.
1. God Is The Author
How do we know that the Bible is one unified story? Because in the Bible, God claims to be the Author of Scripture—the author of all 66 books (2 Timothy 3:16).
The Apostle Peter says, “No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21 ESV).
Peter helps us to see that Scripture has always been written by men under the inspiration of God, the Holy Spirit. In other words, while Peter certainly wrote his letter in his right mind in full integrity, he did so under the inspiration of God, who guided and directed his life, thoughts, and desires. This means that when Peter wrote, he wrote exactly what God wanted him to write.
The same could be said of Moses, who wrote the first five books of the Bible, and every other author of Scripture all the way to John, who wrote the final book of the Bible.
God is the ultimate Author of Scripture. Because the Bible has one Author, it tells one story. Theologians have often called this story “redemptive history.” It is the nature of Scripture (that it’s inspired by God) which unifies the Bible.
2. Jesus Is The Main Character
All of what we’ve discussed so far doesn’t really help us get past the obvious question: What has Genesis to do with the Book of Job? Or Joshua with 2 Corinthians? Or Micah with Hebrews?
Though we can agree that the Bible is one story, it’s difficult to understand how that story fits together.
Biblical theology is a discipline that helps us to understand how the diversity of Scripture centers around one story—how the diversity of the Bible centers around one man: Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17 ESV). Here, Jesus says he is the fulfillment of the Old Testament.
Similarly, on the road to Emmaus, Jesus begins to teach two of his followers how the whole Old Testament is about him. “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27 ESV). In other words, all of the Old Testament is about Jesus Christ. And we know from reading the New Testament that it’s all about him too.
The fact that the Bible is all inspired by God and tells one story about Jesus Christ brings unity to its 66 books.
What Is Biblical Theology?
So far, we’ve looked at how a particular understanding of the Bible (namely, that it is inspired) helps us to see how the Bible tells one story (about Jesus Christ).
Now, we’re ready for a definition of biblical theology:
Biblical Theology is the discipline that helps us understand how the storyline of Scripture unfolds and finds its’ fulfillment in Jesus Christ.
In this way, then, biblical theology, rather than just being about “sound doctrine,” helps us to understand how all of Scripture fits together as one story (often referred to as a metanarrative), centered around Jesus Christ.
Nick Roark and Robert Cline say, “Biblical theology is a way of reading the Bible as one story by one divine author that culminates in who Jesus Christ is and what he has done, so that every part of Scripture is understood in relation to him” (26). This reminds us that all of Scripture is about Jesus Christ and what God is doing through him.
Practicing biblical theology, then, is about reading the Bible and expecting to find Jesus.
Reading the Bible Paying Attention to Themes
The discipline of biblical theology looks for Christ as the epicenter of the biblical story, but it also traces other significant sub-themes throughout the storyline
Some scholars will argue that there is one specific “center” theme to Scripture, though the majority of scholars will argue for a collection of themes. Popular themes are creation and new creation, divine blessing, God’s presence, temple and tabernacle, or covenants.
In their book, An Invitation to Biblical Theology, Jeremy Kimble and Ched Spellman write,
Rather than pinpoint a single center to organize the produce of biblical theology, the more fruitful way forward is to articulate a collection of central biblical-theological themes that capture major swaths of the theological message found across the Bible. (237)
Biblical theology, then, seeks to find major themes that fortify the Biblical structure.
How Is Biblical Theology Helpful?
How is biblical theology helpful to us?
First, biblical theology is a discipline that helps us study the Bible seriously, and grow in understanding the storyline of Scripture. We don’t study God’s Word by means of any discipline in order to simply know more about God. Rather, we study because we find our hope in God’s Word (Psalm 119:81 CSB), and we find joy in knowing God better through the story he has authored. Biblical theology helps us become better acquainted with God’s Story.
Biblical theology also helps us get better acquainted with God’s hero, Jesus. If Jesus taught that the whole Old Testament is about him (Luke 24:27), then we need to make sure that we read the Old Testament accordingly. The discipline of looking for shadows of Jesus in the Old Testament is how God himself instructs us to read our Bibles. Biblical theology is just a fancy word for reading the Bible as Jesus taught us to read it—seeing him as the main point.
Are you familiar with the storyline of the Bible? Do you read the Bible looking for Jesus? You can start the discipline of biblical theology today—ask God for his help to read his story with him in mind today.